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President turns away Arab lawmaker who met attackers’ families

Jamal Zahalka refused entry to Residence, says he was told they did not have enough chairs; Rivlin says MK knew invitation was rescinded

President Reuven Rivlin (third from right) meeting with Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (second right), Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul (right), Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (third from left) and leaders of the Arab Israeli public, on February 24 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (third from right) meeting with Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (second right), Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul (right), Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (third from left) and leaders of the Arab Israeli public, on February 24 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin refused to allow Arab MK Jamal Zahalka entry to his official residence in Jerusalem Wednesday, due to the latter’s February 2 meeting with the families of Palestinian terrorists.

Zahalka, who leads the Balad party inside the Joint (Arab) List’s Knesset faction, had been invited along with other party leaders to the meeting with the heads of Arab regional and local authorities in Israel.

But the invitation was issued before Zahalka and fellow Balad lawmakers Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas met with the relatives of Palestinians killed during attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis.

Zahalka never RSVPed to the invitation last month, and when he tried to do so two hours before today’s event, he was declined on the grounds that the president did not wish to see him since accepting him would offend Israeli citizens, according to a report by Channel 2 news.

Following the news that Zahalka has been disinvited, heads of other parties making up the Joint List Faction, MKs Ayman Odeh, Ahmed Tibi and Masoud Gnaim also canceled their participation.

The President’s residence said Zahalka had been told in advance that the invitation was rescinded because he had met with the families of Palestinian killers of Israelis.

Jamal Zahalke (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jamal Zahalke (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and Prime Minister’s Office director Eli Groner all attended the conference, along with 67 Arab municipal leaders.

“While unfortunately, there are those, individual Knesset members who seek to cynically and maliciously sabotage our ability to establish trust between us, nevertheless we are here today because we believe in our path,” Rivlin said at the conference.

Zahalka said he originally declined going, to protest government measures against the Arab community.

“On second thought and after serious deliberations over the past few days, and after it was clarified that no decision was made on the conditions, I decided to participate and told the President’s Residence, but I was told all the chairs in the hall were filled and that there was no more room. In reaction, heads of the Joint List parties canceled their participation,” Zahalka said. “I did not know that the President’s Residence is missing chairs and they should seriously consider adding funding for the purchase of additional chairs.”

Zahalka is currently serving out a two-month suspension from some Knesset activities, levied by the Knesset Ethics Committee over his participation in the meeting with the families of Palestinian attackers, which included a moment of silence.

Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)
Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)

Zoabi and Ghattas each got four-month sentences for attending the meeting.

Since news of the meeting with the attacker’s families came out earlier this month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to push forward a bill that would allow lawmakers to be suspended from the Knesset until the end of the term for such acts.

While Rivlin has come out against the legislation he has also been harshly critical of Zahalka, Zoabi and Ghattas for meeting the families.

At the president’s function, Groner and Gamliel said a recently-approved plan to strengthen the Arab sector in Israel would continue to move forward.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously quoted Eli Groner and spelled his name incorrectly.

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