With Lapid’s okay, MKs to kick off process to oust Arab lawmaker
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With Lapid’s okay, MKs to kick off process to oust Arab lawmaker

70 colleagues said set to trigger law to expel MK Basel Ghattas, accused of smuggling phones to jailed Palestinian terrorists; final vote will require Zionist Union backing

Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate's Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate's Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Seventy lawmakers are set to trigger a new law to expel an Arab MK, accused of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian terror prisoners, from the Knesset.

The coalition-spearheaded measure will move ahead after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid announced his party will now support the move, kicking off the process to oust MK Basel Ghattas from parliament, Channel 2 reported on Sunday night. Lapid was set to sign on to the complaint on Monday, the TV report said.

Ghattas, of the Arab Joint List’s Balad faction, is under a criminal investigation after he was caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to the prisoners last month. He was released to house arrest earlier this month, five days after he was arrested.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has authorized an indictment against Ghattas, which has yet to be lodged, and which includes charges of using property to abet terror, fraud, breach of trust, and aggravated fraud.

Coalition lawmakers, led by Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, have sought to remove Ghattas from office with a new law passed in July, under which 70 Knesset members — 10 of whom must be from the opposition — may file a complaint with the Knesset speaker against any lawmaker who supports armed struggle against Israel or incites to racial hatred, launching the impeachment process.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid leads a party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid leads a party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset House Committee can then debate the complaint before clearing it with a three-quarter majority in the committee. The motion to dismiss the lawmaker would then be sent to the plenum, where, if 90 of the 120 Knesset members vote in favor, the MK would be ousted. The deposed lawmaker could then appeal the decision with the Supreme Court.

With Lapid’s support, the process to remove Ghattas can be set in motion, though it will require the support of the opposition Zionist Union party to remove Ghattas entirely in the Knesset vote. The Zionist Union has opposed the measure.

The law was proposed after three Arab MKs, including Ghattas, paid a condolence visit last February to the families of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis. The three reportedly observed a moment of silence during the visit — they denied it — which some said was tantamount to showing support for terror.

Ghattas is currently accused of taking advantage of his position as a member of Knesset, who is not subject to a body search, during a visit to Ketziot prison where he met with Walid Daka, who received a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.

Police claim that, ahead of the visit, Ghattas planned with Walid’s 65-year-old brother, Assad, to hand over cellphones to Bezre who was to then pass them on to the incarcerated Daka and other prisoners. Asad Daka allegedly met with Ghattas at a gas station where he handed over four envelopes containing a dozen phones, SIM cards and chargers.

The purported purpose of Ghattas’s visit was to hear complaints about prison conditions. He hid the envelopes inside his clothing and when a metal detector at the entrance to the prison beeped, Ghattas claimed it was because of his belt buckle, the indictment said.

After the visit, Prisons Service officials found 12 to 15 cellphones and at least a dozen SIM cards in the prisoners’ cells, along with what officials said were “coded” notes.

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