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The Knesset v. Zoabi: Israeli Arab MK's politics put on trial

The High Court spent most of Tuesday’s hearing questioning Zoabi’s politics rather than deliberating whether the Knesset had the right to suspend her in the first place.

Israel’s High Court of Justice held a discussion Tuesday morning over Knesset member Haneen Zoabi’s (Balad) petition to overrule a decision to suspend her from parliamentary debates for six months. The decision was put into effect by the Knesset Ethics Committee on July 29 and is due to expire at the end of January 2015. Tuesday’s session ended without a decision, but justices said one would be made in the coming days.

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

The suspension was implemented based on statements Zoabi made during a radio interview in June about the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank (before their fate was known). Here is what she said:

Is it really strange that the people who live under occupation and who do not live a normal life but live in a reality in which Israel kidnaps detainees on a daily basis; is it strange that these people commit a kidnapping? They are not terrorists, even if I do not agree with their actions, these people do not have any escape, any escape….These people do not see a possibility to change this reality, and so they are forced to use these means until Israel behaves a little, until Israel’s society and Israeli citizens behave a little, until they look at the suffering and feel the suffering of others.

Despite stating she does not support the abduction, and in principle opposes any acts of harm against civilians, her refusal to call the kidnappers “terrorists” led Israeli politicians to claim that she violated the Knesset’s code of conduct and therefore can be suspended (the code normally relates to statements made inside the Knesset). At the time, Zoabi tried to explain in the Hebrew media that she refuses to use the word “terrorists,” as it reflects a unilateral Israeli point of view that portrays Israelis as the sole victims.

The petition, filed on Zoabi’s behalf by Adalah, an NGO dedicated to the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), argues that that the suspension violates her right to freedom of speech. The petition further claimed that it is not within the Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction to limit an MK’s activities.

According to Adalah, this is the harshest penalty ever imposed by the committee in the history of the Knesset concerning a single statement. It is also the first time that the committee has imposed a punishment for a statement that did not include any threats, incitement, contempt, slander or defamation:

The harshest punishment imposed by the committee against a member of Knesset based on political statements was the suspension of MK Aryeh Eldad from all Knesset meetings for only one day, because of his statement against the Sharon-Olmert government, saying: ‘Whoever relinquishes an area under Israeli sovereignty must be killed.’

According to some present in the courtroom, the judges spent most of the time interpreting Zoabi’s statement and politics rather than deliberating whether the committee had the right to make such a decision.

Read: The Israeli media’s hit job on MK Haneen Zoabi

Haaretz reporter Revital Hovel, who was in the courtroom, tweeted one of the justices remarks: “I don’t understand how a person who proclaims to be an advocate for non-violence can say about someone who kidnaps children that they are not terrorists.”

Responding to the nature of the court’s discussion Tuesday, Zoabi told the press:

What I do is the right of any Knesset member and I believe and hope that the judges will discuss the matter at hand, since they are the last gatekeeper of human rights, democracy and equality. I will continue my fight. The fascist right wingers are the ones who should be in court.

Adalah Attorney Hassan Jabarin said that if the justices do not decide to rescind the decision to suspend Zoabi, it could pave the way for other Jewish Knesset members to “punish” representatives of the Arab minority for their political opinions.

Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalka said “there is no parliament in the world in which the freedom of speech of one of its members is more restricted than that of a citizen.”

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) marches along with thousands of people march through Jerusalem in support and solidarity with the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school, which was the target of a racist arson attack a week earlier, Jerusalem, December 5, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) marches along with thousands of people march through Jerusalem in support and solidarity with the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school, which was the target of a racist arson attack a week earlier, Jerusalem, December 5, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Once the discussion ended, Itamar Ben Gvir, a well-known far-right activist and attorney (who is currently representing the suspects in the arson attack on the bilingual school in Jerusalem) and other rightists accosted Zoabi in the hallway of the Supreme Court. In this video some of them are heard calling Zoabi a “terrorist” as she walks out of court.

Zoabi became a target for the Israeli right following her participation in the first Gaza flotilla in 2010. Despite the fact that no charges were brought against her, Zoabi was stripped of some of her parliamentary privileges at the time and was attacked in the Knesset by some right-wing members. In 2012 the Supreme Court reversed the Central Election Committee’s decision to prevent Zoabi from running in the election. Right-wing MKs, chief among them the Likud’s Miri Regev and Danny Danon, have vowed that they will continue their efforts to disqualify Zoabi and her party from participating in Israeli elections.

Related:
The Israeli media’s hit job on MK Haneen Zoabi
Why does the Israeli left oppose MK Haneen Zoabi?

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    1. Mikesailor

      I’ve written before that the Israeli legal system is really a “kangaroo court” system although I acknowledged the insult to Australian marsupials. The questioning has nothing to do with law. The legal question could only be: Absent a criminal conviction, what immunity does a MK possess for exercising speech within a Knesset session? Can the Knesset simply suspend or bar a duly elected MK for speech which is not criminal, defamatory etc. but merely speech which the majority does not like? Everything else is the typical BS of the Israeli “legal” system.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Brian

      Of course no one would dream of suspending Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Feiglin.

      http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/yossi-sarid-feiglin-his-cronies-are-fascists-by-any-definition-1.259197#!

      “…Sometimes, one wonders how what began as an ignominy deteriorates into abysmal lows. This paper published an interview with Feiglin from 1995, conducted by Ada Oshpiz. “When he reads about Hitler, it is with astonishment,” the reporter wrote.

      In describing Adolf Hitler, Feiglin is quoted to have told her, “Hitler was an unparalleled military genius. Nazism promoted Germany from a low to a fantastic physical and ideological status. The ragged, trashy youth body turned into a neat and orderly part of society and Germany received an exemplary regime, a proper justice system and public order. Hitler savored good music. He would paint. This was no bunch of thugs. They merely used thugs and homosexuals.”

      The time has come to break free from the shackles of politically correct speech and call these people – Feiglin and his cronies – by their explicit name. They are not “radicals” but fascists by any acceptable definition. And had they not been born – through no fault of their own – to Jewish mothers, they would have been damn anti-Semites to boot.

      “There can be no doubt that Judaism is racist in some sense,” Feiglin went on to say in that interview. “And when they asserted at the United Nations that Zionism was racist, I did not find much reason to protest. The people who take racism to mean a distinction between races – and this is a very primitive distinction – must argue that Zionism is racist.”…”

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Brian, are you saying that Zoabi was correct in calling Feighlin a fascist?

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Certainly. It’s pretty much as accurate as saying water boils at sea level at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on evidence publicly available and evidence for that matter that neither Feiglin nor ‘Tomer’ it seems would dispute. “What’s the big deal?” is what I imagine their main response would be.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      Interesting angle by Pollock (small print).

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lo

      So she got suspended for not using the word “terrorist.” Considering how she herself was called a terrorist by many Israelis, I think I see her point. The term has lost all meaning.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Zakkai

      Absolutely stupendous. The Israeli Right (which includes the Israeli Center) is terrified of ideas. That’s why they have to punish and silence dissenters. That’s not a sign of strength.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bryan

      In a democracy, and especially in its home, freedom of speech is surely sacrosanct. The nature of terrorism above all needs mature discussion – it is a terribly emotive, loaded, sledgehammer of a term. It is impossible to imagine a US Senator or Representative being suspended for 6 months merely for arguing that the violent response to the Ferguson shooting is civil disorder, not terrorism. In the UK a substantial number of MP’s have been suspended for up to 5 working days for breeches of parliamentary procedure which the house considers “disorderly conduct” such as seizing the ceremonial mace or use of unparliamentary language. Any longer suspension has never been for the content of speeches, but always for corrupt practices, such as failing to declare pecuniary interests, obstructing financial investigations, employing a male escort as an assistant, or using tours of parliament to promote a travel business. Not all is right with British democracy but in this respect the house has acted commendably: the business of parliament depends on the courtesy shown by members to each other irrespective of their political or ideology differences (which must be absolutely respected since they are direct representatives of their voters). The public standing of parliament is a vital concern so corrupt and venal practices exact a harsher sanction, but still a maximum of one month. Unfortunately in this matter, as in so many others, the Knesset seems determined to demonstrate that Israel is not a democracy. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_from_the_UK_parliament)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Pedro X

      Zoabi also posted on her party’s website and called for “a siege” to be placed on Israel and for an end to peace talks and Palestinian security coordination with it.

      Zoabi also said on al-Jazeera:

      “We blame the Israeli government, whose terrorist policies are responsible for what has befallen the Palestinian people and which is responsible even for the kidnapping,”

      On June 12, 2014 Zoabi told Tel Aviv radio interviewer Sharon Gal that she did not consider the kidnappers to be terrorists, but rather “people who see no other way to change their reality.”

      Hamas in support of Zoabi said:

      “We in Hamas bless Hanin Zoabi for standing her ground,”

      Issac Herzog, Labor leader, said:

      “Yesterday, at the height of the mission to find the boys, you chose to utter obscene statements in support of their kidnapping that I take very seriously.”

      The Ethics committee of the Knesset suspended Zoabi for 6 months. Zoabi appealed the suspension and the matter was heard by a panel of five judges. The judges did not appear to be sympathetic to Zoabi’s lawyer’s arguments.

      Justice Hanan Melcer said:

      “Of all her statements, you must address her call ‘to place a siege on the state of Israel instead of negotiating with it.’”

      Justice Esther Hayut:

      “When a statement by a member of Knesset contradicts the minimal common denominator [in society] and says things that not only enrage sections of the public, but take a stand against the state … when one proposes to place a siege on the country; to stop security coordination with it; when one identifies with people who kidnap children; how can these statements be reconciled with the country’s most basic good?”

      “I myself can’t understand how a person who claims to support nonviolence can argue that a child kidnapper is not a terrorist. It’s like ‘black snow,”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben Zakkai

        Now this is where you and those judges (and perhaps Herzog) fail to understand that freedom of speech, particularly on the subject of politics, and most especially within an elected legislature, is the lifeblood of advanced democratic societies. It shouldn’t matter that you and they disagree with Zoabi’s statements or are even outraged by them; you are, after all, completely free to express contrary views. A state that sanctions its legislators for expressing unpopular views is on the way to becoming a dark and primitive place.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Obviously you do not understand Parliamentary democracies which require its members to act and talk in an ethical manner. If they go beyond the standards of ethical acts or speech they can be sanctioned and suspended from Parliament. This is why there is an ethics committee.

          This happens in Canada in the House of Commons and in the Senate. Members of Parliament and Senators have been suspended on numerous occasions.

          What the Knesset ethics committee did is in line with other Parliamentary democracies.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Ben Zakkai

      Be careful, Pedro, you’re walking into an area where I have considerable knowledge and expertise. I will not let you get away with comparing apples and oranges as you so love to do. Please provide modern-day examples where legislators suffered sanctions similar to those imposed on Zoabi for expressing controversial opinions on political issues. Since you mentioned Canada, start there. And keep in mind that I will check your facts, even if you don’t.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        I cannot think of a case in Canada where an MP or Senator has supported terrorist attacks on Canadian children or proposed a siege against Canada. So it is not possible to give an equivalent example to Ms Zoabi. But there are examples of suspensions for unethical behavior, such as Shelly Glover, Glen Bezan, Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau who all were suspended.

        MP Manon Perreault has been suspended from the NDP caucus as she faces criminal accusations.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Pls.pls. Pdedro, leave Ben to me. I just need to slap him around a little bit for pompously exposing his breathtaking ignorance – yet again!

          Now, timid Ben, because you are challenged and confused (and I have evidence to prove the later) I will begin the lecture with something that involves motions, movements and audios to help you to understand. I will take you to Canada, the UK, our good ‘ol US of A and elsewhere.

          First: Canada

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crZH23DclIY

          Indeed, as Pedro correctly remarked already, in Canada, MP’s get suspended for offenses that are nothing compared to the treasonous activities of MK Zoabi. The duration of said suspensions – while inconsequential re the lawfulness/democratic nature of the suspension itself – is dependent on the severity of the offense committed. Certain offenses can and may lead to total dismissal from the parliament.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Now, to The UK.

            Come along, Ben, don’t be scared! Listen carefully.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9hrfc40Lko

            After these lectures, Ben, you must think twice before you ever again say these pompous words to anyone: “(…), you’re walking into an area where I have considerable knowledge and expertise” – even as you demonstrate sheer ignorance!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            The United States

            Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution Of The United States, states as follows:

            “Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

            The United States Senate has either expelled or censured or reprimanded or prevented from taking office its ELECTED members – some of them for “unparliamentary language” – since its founding.

            This might help ya a little further to understand:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH4eXxLvuik

            You see, Ben Zakkai, I frown at ignorance, but I really despise the POMPOUS ignoramus. Stop pretending to understand the law better than professional judges who – unlike you pompous self – actually studied law and have practiced law for their entire professional lives both as defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges (and in some cases are also law professors). Only a fool thinks that “Freedom Of Speech” is an “Absolute Right” (assuming you know what the later concept means!).

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Ginger, for all your very modestly declared “considerable knowledge and expertise” You haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Your example, Paul Flynn, was expelled from the House of Commons for the remainder of that day’s proceedings, for a clear breech of parliamentary etiquette. In the Commons it is simply accepted (even by Flynn himself) that you do not accuse a Minister of lieing, but conversely any Minister shown to have deceived the house on a matter of fact is under a clear obligation to resign. Haneen Zoabi’s case is in NO WAY COMPARABLE. She was expelled not for the remainder of that day, but for six months. She was expelled not for remarks made on the floor of the Knesset, but for remarks made in a radio interview, where, as an MK, she should have had absolute parliamentary privilege to put forward her opinion. She was expelled not for any clear breech of parliamentary procedure but merely for exercising a right of free speech that should be the life-blood of democracy. What she said may have been unpopular to certain people but she had an absolute right to present her point of view. That point of view basically boils down to what should be entirely uncontroversial – that accusations of terrorism are often used wildly and inappropriately, and that civil violence needs to be understood in its social context (that of an oppressive occupation). She also made it clear that she did not approve of kidnappings.

            Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          So: neither you nor Ginger, despite her longwinded expostulations, could provide a single specific example, by name, of a legislator who was suspended for six months – or for any period at all? – for expressing unpopular opinions. All the rest is flack designed to distract, nothing more.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Ben, you are no longer arguing the legality of suspension of elected officials/Legislators, but the lawfulness of the duration of specific suspensions. That’s quite a concession. As I said already, the severity of the offense determines the duration of the suspension and in some cases actual expulsion. Here is another example:

            Thrown out of EU Parliament – for life – for saying:

            “she looks like a housewife” to a Government Official of African origin. http://salclaire.com/italia.html

            Ben, I thought you know when to count your losses, lick your wounds and move one. Don’t make this get even worse than it is now.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            Ginger, you lie, as anyone who reads our comments above can see. I never argued the legality of suspension of legislators, ergo no concession. Also, two items regarding the Borghezio episode that you reference but fail to describe accurately: He wasn’t sanctioned merely for saying that another legislator looked like a housewife — not hardly – as anyone who does a quick Google search can see; and if you’re having trouble comprehending the difference between sanctions for breaches of parliamentary decorum and sanctions for expressions of unpopular opinions, you can see my post on the more recent Zoabi article here on +972.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Ben, it is obvious you are rattled and as a result now clearly confused and ranting and unable to support any of your claims with source (even as I provided numerous sources to you). (a) You do not dispute the legality of suspension of MK’s/MP’s who act unethically and in a manner unbecoming of an MK/MP, (b) you do not – depending on the nature of a specific violation – dispute the lawfulness of the duration of a specific suspension. The question then is, what exactly are your objections, Ben? You are not making any sense! Beyond foregoing:

            1. Borghezio is an MEP. Like Zoabi, he expressed “unpopular statements” out of Parliament. Like Zoab his fellow MEP’s found his statements not just expressions of “unpopular opinions”, but beyond that unethical and unbecoming of an MEP. Unlike Zoabi, Borgazio was EXPELLED from Parliament, while Zoabi was SUSPENDED for a few months!

            2. Essentially you are claiming that the Knesset and the Houses of Parliaments may sanction MK’s and MP’s for unethical conducts (among which “unparliamentary language”) that occurred in- and/or outside of the Knesset – EXCEPT if the delinquent MK/MP is “a Palestinian”, because ya know, anything a Palestinian MK say is just an “unpopular opinion” – regardless of the CONTENT and the NATURE and CONTEXT thereof – and could never ever amount to “unethical conduct” unbecoming of an MK or even treason.

            You aren’t very clever, Ben. I told ya that several months ago and ya still have learnt nothing. SMH….

            Reply to Comment
        • You can’t “think” of a single case? Are you serious – have you checked the great and powerful internet maybe or are you complete averse to facts and truth, versus whatever’s floating around in your toilet?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            … oy… this ‘thing’ is not just manic and incurably psychotic, but also a complete dunce! Way to go manic marnie, continue to make a public mess of your useless self (soon you will start crying, begging for sympathy for something you again started!). Don’t ya know when to shut even your mouth?

            Reply to Comment
          • Now for something completely different. A public service announcement. Vanilla Eis, Dominatrix Extraordinare and all around plague to humanity. Will see by appointment, only men in need of a thorough slapping (no tickle for you bud) who thinks he’s got the stuff to go one on one with me need apply. Imbecile! I’ll slap you silly and not show you a scintilla of compassion. Wait a tick – I don’t have compassion! (Compassion gives me gas and I bloat up like Sara Netanyahu after scarfing down a trough of Moroccan kabob). I won’t stop until you’ve yielded to my superior intellect, confessed your crimes and begged for mercy (sorry, fresh out). You will then thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly, mister) lick the entire length of my whip, my boots and my naughty bits (oh behave, everyone knows I’m dead from the waist down!). Well imbeciles, what’re you waiting for?

            Have a nice day.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            I think you nailed it. Thanks for the comic relief.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            You have that wrong again Marnie – she dead from the waist upwards! Anyone expressing such arrogantly contemptuous disdain for anyone who disagrees with her, and even such contempt for people who agree with her, but do not share her wisdom, intelligence, acumen, deep and wide knowledge and insight, forfeits the right to be listened to in a public forum. Unfortunately that is her entire strategy – if she can be tiresome enough and obnoxious enough and belittling enough she hopes that people will give her stupid ranting a free pass. Well unfortunately Ginger there are people here who value truth and justice and will waste their time, knowing perfectly well that you are a megaphone without ears but will still contradict your absurdities.

            Reply to Comment
          • Merav

            looks like these two canines brian ‘n marnie are busy smelling each others a***s and getting frenzied; hilarious …

            Reply to Comment
          • No poochie, you’re the bitch here.

            Reply to Comment
    9. Brian

      “Pls.pls. Pdedro, leave Ben to me. I just need to slap him around a little bit”

      Wow. Now if THAT does not sound like two sniveling gangsters talking! THEN she goes on to pontificate about ethics! Eis, not a peep out of you about the Deputy Knesset Speaker’s Hitler and Hitler Youth worship. Not a peep. From ye who like to scream at those with Polish Jewish surnames (e.g., Pollock) about their interest in Jews and justice.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Not. A. Peep.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merav

          go home, stalker!

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben Zakkai

        Merav, Brian is one of the most thoughtful, knowledgeable and polite commenters on +972. He’s got the truth on his side, and you can’t deal with his arguments, which drives you nuts. So you have to resort to the Official Hasbara Strategy of lying, distorting, deflecting, and of course making personal attacks. Go ahead, flail away.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merav

          I disagree and if you want evidence, the rants between brien and marnie above should be enough; furthermore brien talks of “waxing erotic here” for Gingi; brien almost always invoke Nazi imageries and insults when in his messages to Gingi; Gingi never responds to brian and that make mad mad, as mad as hell; that is how stalkers behave; brian has said over and over again that he will ignore Gingi; brian tells others to ignore Gingi, but the next minute, brian is back pursuing Gingi – sometimes acting nice and then booom comes the insults and rants about Nazis, Hitler, etc. if Gingi still does not respond; that is how stalkers behave; if you insist I can post many examples of brains rants to you but I am sure Mairav Zonszein will not like that;

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Who cares if she responds? I certainly don’t. It’s not about her or me. It’s about showing others that she has no credible response. You are clueless.

            Reply to Comment
          • Merav

            the response from Gingi to others is just amazing and mind-blowing; I can see why you can’t resist her but honestly I don’t see why she should dignify your sick messages to her with any response; i also don’t see anything anyone could ever learns from your sick messages to Gingi….. but of course, stalkers never care, brien, stalkers always rationalize and always have a reason for stalking (oh I was just in the neighborhood, oh “It’s not about her or me. It’s about showing others that she has no credible response”, yada yada yada.); but then, brien, you have asked others to ignore Gingi and promised them that you will do the same; even on this thread you said that Gingi “forfeits the right to be listened to in a public forum”; so why are you still pursuing her around like you have a crush on her, you little stalker?

            Reply to Comment
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