The Knesset's House Committee convened Monday morning to discuss the demand to revoke the privileges of Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad),
who took part in the Gaza-bound flotilla,
and of other Arab lawmakers who visited Libya
recently. The discussion was boycotted by the Arab MKs.
Following the stormy discussion, seven Knesset members voted in favor of revoking some of the Balad MK's rights, while a Meretz MK voted against the decision. According to the committee's recommendation, MK Zoabi would lose her diplomatic passport and the Knesset would no longer participate in legal expenses related to her work.
Right-wing and left-wing politicians referred to the decision, which still has to be approved by the Knesset plenum and will likely be contested with the High Court, as "a sad joke".
According to MK Carmel Shama (Likud), "This is similar to imposing an optional fine on spy Vanunu. It lacks any significant meaning. MK Zoabi got another reward for treason today. I am sure that she has a broad smile on her face in light of these lenient sanctions."
Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron, on the other hand, said that "the fact that the sanctions the committee supports are devoid of meaning strengthens the feeling that this is nothing more than an answer to fake expressions of patriotism by some of the Knesset members. Immunity is a key asset of the Knesset, and using it as a punitive measure is a continued deterioration which takes places here on a daily basis."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said he would study the decision and consult the attorney general and the Knesset's legal advisor. According to Rivlin, "This proposal deals with symbolic and declarative issues, rather with the essence – which is removing the immunity – and the attorney general must decide whether to launch an investigation."
The Balad faction issued a statement referring to the decision as racist and anti-democratic. "This decision adds fuel to the flames of incitement against Hanin. The House Committee discussion had one goal: Political persecution. The meeting turned into a hatred and revenge meeting, a field trial in which the MKs are the accusers, the judges and the executers.
"The inciting Knesset members are spilling her blood and causing the public to hurt her. Indeed, there are dozens of concrete warnings of plans to assassinate MK Zoabi. The Knesset members are responsible to anything bad that may happen to her. The Knesset looks like MK Ben Ari, a Kahane movement member, and if the Knesset looks in the mirror it will see Kahane's face. It will be hard to find any traces of democracy there."
At the start of the discussion, Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud)
ordered MK Ilan Ghilon (Meretz)
to leave the room after he expressed his anger for not being allowed to ask a question.
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash)
shouted at MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union),
"This is a field trial. You are a Kahane man. You should be ashamed of yourself." Khenin was ordered to leave the room as well.
The committee chairman presented "evidence" against MK Zoabi, including documents from the Balad website.
He read quotes from the website in which Zoabi identifies as a Palestinian. "I represent the Palestinian people in the Knesset," he quoted her as saying. He noted that the website included a picture of former Balad Chairman Azmi Bishara.
"What is going on here?" asked MK Khenin. "Are you both a prosecutor and a committee chairman? I have never heard of such a procedure."
Levin asked, "Khenin, do you also understand Arabic?" The Hadash MK responded, "What is your role in this discussion? Why don't you let Ben-Ari run it?" MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) told the committee chairman, "You want to throw us out too. We are next. I am not Ben-Ari and not Zoabi. I refuse to accept this distinction. I am not one of them."
MK Khenin during discussion (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK Horowitz said during the discussion that he had objected to the Arab MKs' visit to Libya and to MK Zoabi's participation in the Gaza flotilla.
"The trip to Libya was unnecessary and foolish. Zoabi's participation in the flotilla was inappropriate, and I object to the things she said. An Israeli MK should not have been on the flotilla, but the main question is whether she broke the law.
"I am not a judge, I am not the attorney general. If the AG believe there was a violation of the law here, he should file an indictment. But as long as there was no violation of the law, this is a political discussion."
MK Miri Regev (Likud) said that Zoabi "has privileges which we must revoke. It's time for the Knesset to stop this deterioration."
MK Ghilon presented a stand similar to that of Khenin. "I can't stand MK Zoabi's opinions on anything. But I will not be confused by what this committee is doing. This discussion is clearly political. Ben-Ari knows very well what it means to enter a closed military zone… You are the best PR office Hanin Zoabi could have asked for."
The Knesset's legal advisor, Attorney Eyal Yinon, said he objects to revoking the privileges: "I would like to clarify and stress that from a legal point of view, this discussion's point of departure cannot be denying the Knesset members' legitimacy to serve in the Knesset due to the visit to Libya or the participation in the Gaza flotilla.
"The debate must focus on the misuse of rights and not on the tenure of the Knesset members under discussion here," he added.
Yinon explained that revoking the MK's diplomatic passport is devoid of meaning, as "it's simply a status symbol and provides no diplomatic immunity or any other essential basic right."
The attorney general's senior assistant, Attorney Ran Nizri, addressed the Arab MKs' visit to Libya, saying that it was not one on the list of countries Israelis are not allowed to travel to.
"When it comes to the legal perspective," he said, "Knesset members and citizens cannot be prosecuted. You must decide whether you want to include Libya in the list. If the Knesset decides to change the situation, the legal aspect will change too. The attorney general's decision is that we cannot act against those who visit Libya."
MK Ghilon before being removed from room (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Attorney Nizri said MK Zoabi was questioned by the police after reaching the Ashdod Port. According to him, the police did not hand over the investigation findings. He added that when the findings are received, the attorney general would decide how to act.
According to Nizri, Zoabi is suspected of entering a close military zone and being involved in the violence against the Navy soldiers who raided the ship. He added that when the investigation was completed, the attorney general would decide whether to file an indictment.
"The attorney general believes that the MK's participation in such a flotilla is definitely inappropriate," he said.
Zoabi herself told Ynet, "This is a field trial. Committee Chairman Yariv Levin is raking advantage of the incitement atmosphere and is seeking to grab the momentum in the Israeli street, in favor of the army and against the flotilla. This is why he chose to open the discussion with me and Balad's political platform. All this in order to delegitimize both my participation in the flotilla and the political platform of a country for all its citizens."
The Balad MK added that "the atmosphere in the committee this morning destroys everything left from democracy, which allowed the expression of opinions exceeding the Zionist consensus. The committee threatens not just me, Balad, or the Arab Knesset members, but any sane democrat in this country."
MK Ben-Ari, who initiated discussion (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al)
said the discussion was delusional. "This is a debate held in a McCarthistic atmosphere, in which racism has become the political platform of many MKs. There is a transparent attempt to narrow the steps of the Arab MKs.
"The attack on MK Zoabi is a reflection of racism, hatred and an attempt by right-wing members to escape the ugly picture they see when they look in the mirror. In addition, this is an attempt to escape the growing global demand to lift the inhuman siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Addressing the demand to revoke the rights of the MKs who traveled to Libya, Tibi said that "a Knesset member's parliamentary activity has nothing to do with a diplomatic passports or legal expenses."
In a previous discussion, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin expressed his strong objection
to revoking Arab MKs' immunity. "Limiting the freedom of expression and narrowing the Knesset members' steps is a dangerous, slippery slope, which will end in tyranny and the nullification of the minority," he said.
Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report