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The domino effect of persecuting Arab politicians

The government’s latest attempts to oust Balad from the Knesset are part of an intensifying campaign against Arab political movements, regardless of their different stripes.

MK Haneen Zoabi sits alongside members of the Joint List during a Supreme Court hearing on her disqualification from the Knesset. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Balad MKs Basel Ghattas, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalkeh sit alongside Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh during a Supreme Court hearing on Zoabi’s disqualification from the Knesset. (photo courtesy of the Joint List)

Three months ago, when the Israeli government outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Palestinian citizens of Israel feared that they were witnessing the beginning of an intensified campaign against Arab political groups. Many suspected at the time that the government’s next target would be the Balad party, the nationalist faction of the Joint List, which has been in the crosshairs of consecutive Israeli governments since the 1990s.

Those suspicions were confirmed last week when the Knesset Ethics Committee banned all three of Balad’s Knesset members from attending parliamentary sessions for 2 to 4 months (they can still vote on legislation). The unusual decision was made after the MKs met with families of Palestinians from Jerusalem who had killed or attacked Israelis in recent months. Israeli authorities are refusing to release the attackers’ bodies, and the families were seeking help in arranging their return for burial.

Palestinian citizens of Israel had mixed views of the Balad MKs’ meeting with the attackers’ families. Many argued that the MKs were fulfilling their parliamentary roles in a humanitarian case, particularly one in which families were being collectively punished. Others argued that the MKs should have been more mindful of the scrutiny they were under, particularly regarding an issue most Israelis saw as morally and politically abhorrent.

Friends and relatives carry 19-year-old Khalid al-Jawabreh during his funeral in Al-Arroub camp, West Bank, November 27, 2015. Khalid was killed the day before by Israeli soldiers during clashes. His funeral was attended by hundreds and was followed by clashes. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of October, while at least 16 Israelis have been killed in the same period. More than 9,000 Palestinians and over 80 Israelis were injured, and 1,195 Palestinians including 177 underage children were arrested in the same period. (Activestills.org)

Friends and relatives carry 19-year-old Khalid al-Jawabreh during his funeral in Al-Arroub camp, West Bank, November 27, 2015. Khalid was killed the day before by Israeli soldiers during clashes. (Activestills.org)

Despite these debates, Palestinian citizens were nonetheless startled by how Jewish politicians spun the MKs’ meeting to justify the Knesset suspension. The media, and most Israelis, took little interest in the meeting’s purpose, and instead focused on a “minute of silence” in which the MKs stood for the recital of the fatiha (the Quran’s opening verse), as is customary at gatherings for deceased persons. The political storm framed the incident as an endorsement of violence on the part of the Balad MKs. Also not lost on Palestinian citizens was the government’s clear double standard: punishment was being vetted out against Arab MKs for meeting with families of “terrorists,” while Jewish MKs who did the same were condoned.

The Ethics Committee’s decision, however, was just the beginning: the prime minister himself ordered that a new law be drafted to drastically expand the Knesset’s powers to remove representatives from the parliament. The new amendment would allow a qualified majority of 90 — out of 120 — MKs to temporarily or permanently suspend elected members if it believes they have “supported armed struggle or terror,” “incited to racism,” or “denied Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state.” Those three charges are already stipulated under Israel’s Basic Law as criteria for disqualifying a candidate or political party from elections.

On the surface, the law would appear to be a democratic procedure, but the purpose is blatantly discriminatory. Critics correctly argue that the proposed law further facilitates a tyranny of the Jewish majority over the Palestinian minority – a result very likely in Balad’s case, considering that the Jewish center-left often echoes the right wing’s calls to expel the party. Furthermore, the law is deliberately being written to ensure it will be “applicable, in practice, only to Arab MKs,” one Knesset source told Haaretz.

Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh (left) speaks to Balad MK Jamal Zahalka in the Knesset chambers. (photo: Activestills)

Former Hadash chairman Mohammad Barakeh (left) speaks to Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka in the Knesset chambers. (photo: Activestills)

If passed, the new law would be just the latest in a repertoire of tools used to undermine Palestinian citizens’ political participation. In every election since 2002, Jewish parties have abused the disqualification proceedings to target Arab parties, despite the Supreme Court’s repeated rejection and cancellations of their attempts. Two years ago, the government raised Israel’s electoral threshold as another way to prevent the four small Arab political parties from entering the Knesset – a move that pushed the parties to run as a single slate.

Baseless criminal indictments have also been frequently employed to harass Arab politicians who participated in protests, including against Ayman Odeh and Mohammad Barakeh. Haneen Zoabi, the poster woman for the right wing’s attacks, is consistently portrayed as an outsized violent leader, which is completely detached from her stature even among Palestinian citizens. All the while, Palestinians’ voting rights are routinely paraded as threats in order to galvanize right-wing Jewish voters, as Netanyahu demonstrated when he warned of Arabs “coming out in droves” in last year’s elections.

Israel’s attacks on Arab parties are therefore not new – but they are increasing in their pace and severity. With the government shifting its attention from the Islamic Movement to Balad, Palestinian citizens’ fears of a “domino effect” are quickly being realized. As a result, Palestinian citizens of all ideological stripes find themselves uniting behind a common political cause once again: to remind the Jewish majority and the world that, when it comes to its minority citizens, Israel’s claim of being an equal democratic society is an illusion.

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    1. carmen

      How do you say Nuremberg Laws in israel? Democratzia?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Netanyahu’s bill to allow 90 Jewish MK’s to expel Arab MKs for their political positions and for paying a condolence call on the parents of dead teenagers is pure Judeofascism, hatred of “the Arabs” as a matter of policy, rock bottom. Where’s the bill expelling Ayalet Shaked and others for meeting with upset parents of Jewish firebomb terrorists? Oh, I forgot, her buddy Bezalel insists Jews can’t be terrorists. But hey, Israel is “Jewish and Democratic.” Sure it is. Because Israeli human beings are different than all other human beings on earth. What chapter of the fairy tales is that one in?

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Democracy and war are like oil and water. Very hard to mix.

        I don’t recall American politicians visiting bereaved German or Jepanese families after they placed them in camps en masse during WW2 even though they were naturalized American citizens. Was that democratzia?

        I love the holier than thou preachings of our resident anti Israel propagandists. Go look at what your country did during your wars. Hey I am not criticizing them for it. But individuals like Carmen/Benny who claim to be Americans should put away their sanctimony and stop preaching to us. We are the norm. This is what happens in all wars. And in many other places much worse things happen in their wars.

        Now go tell your Arabs to make peace with us so that the bad things that we inflict on each other can stop.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Enough already with the totally bogus WW2 analogies. We’ve refuted these so many times we are not going to keep doing it. The earth is not flat. Men and dinosaurs did not coexist. The earth is not 6000 years old. And we don’t have to reprove that those propositions are false either.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Stop lying Bennyleh. You never refuted it. You just pretended to, like you are pretending to refute it now.

            Wanna prove me wrong? Don’t be lazy. Show me how you supposedly refuted what I said above.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            You’ve been schooled on countless occasions so you’re either developmentally impaired, brainwashed from birth or just doing your time for hasbara.com. It’s like this:
            “cast pearls before swine” in British English
            › to ​offer something ​valuable or good to someone who does not ​know ​its ​value: I’m ​afraid you’re ​casting ​pearls before ​swine with ​your good ​advice – he won’t ​listen.
            (Definition of cast pearls before swine from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You are both just liars. But never mind. I am not posting here to convince hardened propagandists like you. I am posting here to get people who are not biased the chance to see our side of the story too.

            I do understand why you two are so reluctant to tell me how you refuted my above point. It is because you never refuted it but to console yourselves, you are just pretending to have refuted it.

            So please yourselves. Don’t refute it. I made my point and it will convince those who are not biased like you two. I am achieving my purpose here whether you present an attempt to refute my point or not. Please feel free to respond with just empty bluster, LOL.

            Reply to Comment