Photo: Ofer Amram
Ran Cohen
Photo: Ofer Amram
Knesset hurting itself
Op-ed: Decision to revoke Arab MK Zoabi’s rights undermines essence of democracy

As one who observes the Knesset from the outside and teaches students about parliament’s work, I was horrified by its decision to punish MK Hanin Zoabi, even though I greatly disagree with her ideology and actions.


The Knesset has a nice custom of hosting students who wish to understand parliament’s place within Israel’s democracy. Every time I was asked to meet these students and explain the Knesset’s role, I tried to convince them that its foremost aim is to reflect the various views of the citizenry.


“If you see someone at the Knesset who infuriates you, look into whether this person reflects the views of any Israeli population group,” I would tell them. “If there is such group, then it’s completely fine to have this person sitting at the Knesset and expressing his views, even if they infuriate you. This is the essence of democracy.”


The trouble is that sometimes we see elected officials who never seriously looked into the meaning of democracy, or alternately, they have studied it so well that they are determined to destroy it with their own hands. This is what was done at the Knesset the other day.


Seemingly, MK Zoabi was not deprived of fundamental MK rights: She still has the option of delivering speeches, participating in sessions, and voting. She can certainly live without a diplomatic passport, and the other “punishments” she was slapped with aren’t too terrible. Yet what’s terrible is the very process whereby the Knesset punishes an MK who performs her role as best as she understands it, representing her voters without actually harming national security or existence.


“Eroding the essence of democracy” is not an empty slogan. The erosion happens where the tyranny of the majority gives expression to its fury or frustration to the point of undermining the essence of the Knesset’s work – that is, the rights and duties of its members to express and promote their views in every possible public way.


What were they thinking?

I hope that the Knesset members who decided to impose the punishments on Zoabi forgive me, yet they are either truly naïve or completely foolish. What were they thinking? That their decision would deter MK Zoabi and her colleagues from continuing to do everything in order to express their positions? After all, the more their rights are deprived by the Knesset, the more they would see it as greater success in genuinely and boldly representing their voters.


I do not wish to rule whether MK Zoabi was wrong to join the Gaza-bound flotilla. On the one hand, she has the right to protest the blockade imposed on Gaza residents, who happen to be members of her own people. On the other hand, the flotilla did not merely aim to counter the blockade, but rather, to a large extent protested Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism. However, Zoabi had the legitimacy to make the call herself. I assume that, first and foremost, she thought about representing her voters – and rightfully so.


Under such circumstances, any decent Knesset member has the duty to defend her right to do so, just like they have the duty to defend the right of MK Michael Ben-Ari, who belongs to the other end of the political spectrum, to utter mad words at the very heart of Hebron.


However, those who lost because of the Knesset decision are Knesset members themselves, and of course Israeli democracy, which went along with MK Ben-Ari. (Despite the latter’s racist performances, the Knesset did not revoke his parliamentary freedoms.) Unfortunately, the Knesset did not find the courage to oppose the proposal he initiated against Zoabi.


It appears that our parliament members face a miserable state – what else can they do when they’re convinced that their voters think the Zoabi decision is the most patriotic way to go, thereby believing this is the only way they can get reelected?



First published: 07.15.10, 11:01
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