Jewish lawmakers from across the political spectrum welcomed the announcement by a controversial Arab parliamentarian that she would be leaving the Knesset after the April 9 elections.
MK Hanin Zoabi, who has called for the dissolution of the State of Israel and who sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, said Saturday she will not seek reelection as part of her Palestinian nationalist Balad party, which is part of the Arab Joint List.
“After 10 full years, I thank everyone and I feel that the time has come to change the location, but not the way,” Zoabi said in a statement, insisting she would continue to work to “strengthen Balad’s model for a stronger Palestinian generation and a more determined struggle, in the belief that justice will be done.”
“This is a moment when it is customary to conclude a period of self-examination and look into the future. I will not give myself a grade,” she said. “There were those who appreciated and even supported my actions and what I represented, and there were many more who hated and fought against me and my views.”
In her time in office, the number of those who opposed her swelled considerably, often coming from across the political spectrum amid a constant stream of controversies.
“Zoabi should have been expelled from the Knesset six years ago,” said Science Minister Ofir Akunis of the ruling Likud party on Saturday.
Akunis was one of the lawmakers who was a member of the Central Elections Committee in 2013 and voted not to allow Balad to run in that year’s election. The decision was overturned by the High Court of Justice.
“The High Court, in one of its worst decisions of all time, brought her back, forcing the entire country to endure her for another six full years in the Knesset,” said the Likud minister.
Hatnua MK Yoel Hasson on Saturday called Zoabi “one of the more extreme voices in this Knesset, including in the eyes of the Arab public. Zoabi did everything she could to destroy coexistence in Israel and lent dangerous legitimacy to terrorism. It’s good that she’s gone, and she would do well to be more careful in her actions now that she has no [parliamentary] immunity to protect her. Goodbye and good riddance.”
Zoabi has become a favorite bête noire of the Israeli right over her constant stream of controversial comments over the years, including the labeling of IDF soldiers as “murderers” and similar rhetoric.
She participated in the 2010 bid by a convoy of vessels, including the Mavi Marmara, that sought to break the Israeli blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, vowed to participate in future such efforts, and called the Israeli soldiers who blocked the flotilla “murderers.” Ten activists were killed in violence aboard the Marmara when they attacked Israeli troops who boarded the vessel. Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.
In April 2018, Zoabi called for the State of Israel to be dissolved and replaced with either two states — one secular and one Palestinian — or one binational secular state.
In May 2018, she was disciplined by the Ethics Committee, which slapped her with a one-week ban for accusing Israeli soldiers of “murdering” Palestinians.
In July 2014, the committee banned her for six months after she said that the killers of three Israeli teenagers were not terrorists. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal to overturn the suspension.
Right-wing lawmakers have long called for her to be permanently banned from the Knesset over her incendiary comments about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
One of her most outspoken critics, MK Avigdor Liberman, has repeatedly called Israel’s Arab population a “fifth column” and advocates handing Arab Israeli cities over to a future Palestinian state.
“It’s good that a senior representative of the fifth column is leaving the Knesset,” Liberman said in a tweet on Saturday. “I wish her all success in Gaza or Beirut.”
Last October, then-defense minister Liberman was reprimanded in the Knesset for calling Zoabi a “terrorist” in a June 4, 2018, tweet that was part of his party’s campaign to have her expelled from the Knesset.
Zoabi complained to the Ethics Committee about the post, accusing Liberman of criminal incitement against Arab lawmakers. In his terse response to the committee, Liberman repeated his accusation, saying he would “cut to the chase — she’s a terrorist.”
MK Merav Ben-Ari, of the centrist Kulanu party, on Saturday accused Zoabi of “consistently working to incite and divide Israeli society. In almost every debate, regardless of the committee, even in the Education Committee where we were both members, she would declaim the Palestinian narrative, regardless of the topic of the actual debate.”
Zoabi’s absence “won’t be felt in the 21st Knesset. The opposite. The Arab community deserves better leadership that will actually concern itself with [the community’s] most vital interests,” she said.
The head of the Arab Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, said that while he had “argued with Hanin often,” he supported her as she faced “conflict with the right and an assault by the media against her.”
“Hanin always stood in the eye of the storm on the question of [Israel being] a state of all its citizens versus being a ‘Jewish state,’ on the right to resist the occupation and on the natural right of the indigenous to oppose the colonialist mentality,” Odeh said.
Balad, an acronym for National Democratic Assembly, has three of the 13 seats the Joint List currently holds.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, Balad became a part of the Joint List alliance after the raising of the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of votes threatened to shut out a number of small Arab parties from the Knesset.
Zoabi’s announcement came a week after Balad party head MK Jamal Zahalka announced he also would not run in the elections.
“After 16 years as a Knesset member, I am proud to say we brought change,” he said in a statement.
Despite retiring from the Knesset, Zahalka said he would remain chairman of Balad and continue “to work for justice, liberty, equality, the eradication of hate and racism, as well as the end of the occupation.”
Zahalka was first elected to the Knesset in 2003 and later became the head of Balad after its leader Azmi Bishara fled Israel amid allegations he supplied intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.
In December, various media outlets reported that Zahalka and Zoabi might be prevented from running again due to internal party regulations limiting the number of terms in office a member can serve — unless the party’s central committee voted to approve a change.
Last January police recommended fraud and other graft charges be brought against three current lawmakers from the Balad party — Zoabi, Zahalka and Juma Azbarga.
Indictments were recommended regarding donations the party received during the 2013 elections and party spending during the 2015 elections. The State Prosecution has yet to rule on the matter.
Another former Balad lawmaker, Basel Ghattas, is currently in prison for smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners while serving in Knesset.