Zoabi charged for calling Arab Israeli cops ‘traitors’

Firebrand Arab MK prosecuted for ‘insulting a public official’ after incitement allegations dropped in plea bargain

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

MK Hanin Zoabi being escorted out of the plenary hall by security guards after interrupting an assembly session in the Knesset, June 17, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Hanin Zoabi being escorted out of the plenary hall by security guards after interrupting an assembly session in the Knesset, June 17, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Controversial Arab Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi was charged Thursday with “insulting a public official” during an incident last year in which she branded Israeli Arab policemen as traitors.

The indictment was filed at the Nazareth District Court after Joint (Arab) List Member of Knesset Zoabi reached a plea bargain with the State Attorney’s Office last month, under which more serious charges of incitement were dropped. In exchange, she pleaded guilty to insulting a public official and agreed to waive her parliamentary immunity to enable the conviction. She also agreed to send a letter of apology to the subjects of her comments, and pay a NIS 3,000 fine.

“My remarks came against a backdrop of harsh arrests,” Zoabi wrote in her letter of apology, adding that she was “upset” at the time, and that the things she said “were not representative of my style or my way.” Zoabi added that she “had no intention of insulting anyone. I’m sorry I said those things and apologize to anyone who was hurt by them.”

The state is expected to seek a three-year suspended sentence for the charges.

The initial incident took place in July 2014 outside the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, during the trial of Arabs who had been arrested at riots sparked by the murder of East Jerusalem teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists. During the proceedings, Zoabi joined hundreds of Arab Israelis who protested the arrests, which they claimed were arbitrary and motivated by racism against Arabs.

“Those who act against their own people should be used to mop up the floor,” she charged, adding that the “traitors should fear” the reaction of the local community. The statements were interpreted by officials as a call for violence against Arab Israeli police officers.

Initially, Zoabi argued her remarks did not amount to incitement, and claimed the charges against her were politically motivated as she had spoken out against the policy of arresting Arab protesters.

In August 2014, police recommended that Zoabi be put on trial for incitement, threats and abuse directed at a police officer. In June 2015, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved a criminal probe into the incident.

Zoabi has been the subject of previous investigations for incitement, and has seen numerous failed attempts by fellow lawmakers to remove her from parliament.

A vociferous critic of the Israeli government and society, Zoabi came under fire for taking part in the May 2010 flotilla to Gaza that ended in a deadly clash between Israel Defense Forces troops and pro-Palestinian activists on board one of the ships. In 2014, the MK refused to use the label “terrorists” for those who abducted and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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