‘The Only Democracy in the Middle East’ Suspends Arab MK Haneen Zoabi

‘The Only Democracy in the Middle East’ Suspends Arab MK Haneen Zoabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Israel’s mask of democracy
slips as Haneen Zoabi is suspended for 6 months
Haneen Zoabi –  singled out for abuse by Israeli right and Zionists

 In the summer Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Knesset for
Balad, was asked of the kidnapping and murder of 3 teenage settlers was an act
of terrorism.  She replied that it
wasn’t.  There was no reason to believe
that it was part of a wider political or military campaign as opposed to the
act of individual Palestinians.  For this
she has been suspended for 6 months from the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.

Ayelet Shaked MK of Jewish Home, a far-right member of the government
coalition also wrote, on Face Book, that Palestinian mothers should be murdered
in order to prevent the birth of Palestinian ‘snakes’.  A clear call for genocide.  Her punishment?  There wasn’t any.
The government has also passed an Act to raise the threshold
that a Party needs to be elected, to 3.25%, the purpose of which is to prevent
the election of Arab MKs.
Israel used to parade itself as the ‘only democracy in the
Middle East’.  Now even that sounds
hollow, as Zoabi, who supported and was on board the Mavi Marmara, has outraged
the Zionist public in Israel.  With the
exception of the Meretz civil rights group, all the Zionist parties, including
the Labour Party, voted to support, by 64-16 the motion to suspend Zoabi.
Below is a full report from Jonathan Cook’s excellent blog.
5
November 2014
Electronic
Intifada – 4 November 2014
The
Israeli parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to suspend Haneen Zoabi, a
legislator representing the state’s large Palestinian minority, for six months
as a campaign to silence political dissent intensified.
The
Israeli parliament, or Knesset, voted by 68 to 16
to endorse a decision in late July by its ethics committee to bar Zoabi from
the chamber for what it termed “incitement.”
It is the
longest suspension in the Knesset’s history and the maximum punishment allowed
under Israeli law.
At a
press conference, Zoabi denounced her treatment as “political persecution.”
“By
distancing me from the Knesset, basically they’re saying they don’t want Arabs,
and only want ‘good Arabs.’ We won’t be ‘good Arabs,’” she said.
The
Knesset’s confirmation of Zoabi’s suspension comes as she faces a criminal
trial for incitement in a separate case and as the Knesset considers stripping
her of citizenship.
But Zoabi
is not the only Palestinian representative in the firing line. Earlier this
year the Knesset raised the threshold for election to the parliament, in what
has been widely interpreted as an attempt to exclude all three small parties
representing the Palestinian minority. One in five citizens of Israel belong to
the minority.
In
addition, it emerged last week that a bill is being prepared to outlaw the
northern branch of the Islamic Movement, the only extra-parliamentary party
widely supported by Palestinian citizens.
Along
with Zoabi, the Islamic Movement’s leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has been among
the most vocal critics of Israeli policies, especially over the al-Aqsa mosque
compound in occupied Jerusalem.
Death threats
Zoabi was
originally suspended after legislators from all the main parties expressed
outrage at a series of comments from her criticizing both the build-up to
Israel’s summer assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” and the
51-day attack itself, which left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of
them civilians.

In
particular, fellow members of Knesset were incensed by a radio interview
in which she expressed her disapproval of the kidnapping of three Israeli
youths in the occupied West Bank, but refused to denounce those behind it as
“terrorists.” The youths were later found murdered.

Zoabi
faced a wave of death threats and needed to be assigned a bodyguard for public
appearances.
During
the Knesset debate on her appeal against the suspension, Zoabi said:
“Yes, I crossed the lines of consensus — a warlike, aggressive, racist,
populist, chauvinist, arrogant consensus. I must cross those lines. I am no
Zionist, and that is within my legal right.”

Zoabi,
who has come to personify an unofficial political opposition in the Knesset
against all the main parties, is under attack on several fronts.

Last week
she was informed that the
state prosecution service had approved a police recommendation to put her on
trial for criminal incitement for “humiliating” two policemen.
She is
alleged to have referred to the policemen, who are members of the Palestinian
minority, as “collaborators” as she addressed parents of children swept up in
mass arrests following protests against the Israeli assault on Gaza over the
summer.
Faina
Kirschenbaum, the deputy interior minister in the government of Benjamin
Netanyahu, has also drafted two bills directly
targeting Zoabi.
The first
would strip someone of the right to stand for the Knesset if they are found to
have supported “an act of terrorism,” while the second would strip them of
their citizenship.
Because
ministers are not allowed to initiate private bills, the task of bringing the
measures to the floor of the parliament has been taken up by the Knesset’s Law,
Constitution and Justice Committee.

Intentional subversions
Zoabi
further infuriated fellow members of Knesset this month when she compared the
Israeli army to the Islamic State, the jihadist group that has violently taken
over large parts of Syria and Iraq and has become notorious for kidnapping
westerners and beheading them.

In an
apparently intentional subversion of Netanyahu’s recent comparison of the
Islamic State and Hamas, the Palestinian resistance movement, Zoabi described an Israeli Air Force pilot
as “no less a terrorist than a person who takes a knife and commits a beheading.”
She added that “both are armies of murderers, they have no boundaries and no
red lines.”

Avigdor
Lieberman, the foreign minister, was among those who responded by calling Zoabi
a “terrorist.”

“The law
must be used to put the terrorist — there is no other word for it — the
terrorist Haneen Zoabi in jail for many years,” he told Israel Radio.
A poll
this month found
that 85 percent of the Israeli Jewish public wanted Zoabi removed from the
Knesset.

“There is
a great deal of frustration among Israeli politicians and the public at their
army’s failure to defeat the Palestinian resistance in Gaza,” said Awad Abdel
Fattah, the secretary general of Balad, a political party representing
Palestinians in Israel. “At times like this, the atmosphere of repression
intensifies domestically.”

Silencing all political dissent

The
initiatives against Zoabi are the most visible aspects of a wider campaign to
silence all political dissent from the Palestinian minority.

Last
week, Lieberman instructed one of his members of Knesset, Alex Miller, to
initiate a bill that would outlaw Salah’s Islamic Movement.

The
legislation appears to be designed to hold Netanyahu to his word from late May.
Then, the Israeli media revealed that the prime
minister had created a ministerial team to consider ways to ban the movement.
At the
same time, the Israeli security services claimed that Salah’s faction was
cooperating closely with Hamas in Jerusalem.
After
Israel barred the Palestinian Authority from having any presence in Jerusalem
more than a decade ago and expelled Hamas legislators from the city, Salah has
become the face of Palestinian political activism in Jerusalem.
Under the
campaign slogan “al-Aqsa is in danger,” he has taken a leading role in warning
that Israel is incrementally taking control of the most sensitive holy site in
the conflict.
Last
month it emerged
that the Knesset is to vote on legislation to give Jewish religious extremists
greater access to the mosque compound. Already large numbers of Jews, many of
them settlers, regularly venture on to esplanade backed by armed Israeli
police.
They
include Jewish extremists that expressly want to blow up the al-Aqsa mosque so
that a replica of a Jewish temple from 2,000 years ago can be built in its
place.
Last
week, Yehuda Glick, a leader of one of these extremist groups, was shot and wounded
in Jerusalem. In response, Israel shut down al-Aqsa for the
first time since the outbreak of the second intifada fourteen years ago.
Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, called it
a “declaration of war.”

According
to the text of
Lieberman’s bill
, the northern wing of the Islamic Movement
“subverts the State of Israel’s sovereignty while making cynical use of the
institutions and fundamental values of the Jewish and democratic state.”
It also
blames the movement for “an eruption of violence and unrest among the Arab
minority in Israel, while maintaining close relations with the terrorist
organization Hamas.”

Raising the threshold
The
attacks on Zoabi and the Islamic Movement come in the wake of legislation in
March to raise the electoral
threshold
— from 2 percent to 3.25 percent — for a party to win
representation in the Knesset.
The new
threshold is widely seen as having been set to exclude the three Palestinian
parties currently in the Knesset from representation. The minority’s vote is
split almost evenly between three political streams.
Zoabi’s
Balad party emphasizes the need for the Palestinian minority to build its own
national institutions, especially in education and culture, to withstand the
efforts of Israel’s Zionist institutions to strip Palestinian citizens of their
rights and erase their identity. Its chief demand has been for “a state for all
its citizens” — equal rights for Jewish and Palestinian citizens.
Balad’s
chief rival is the joint Jewish-Arab party of Hadash, whose Communist ideology
puts a premium on a shared program of action between Jewish and Arab citizens.
However, its Jewish supporters have shrunk to a tiny proportion of the party.
It too campaigns for equal rights.
And the
final party, Raam-Taal, is a coalition led by prominent Islamic politicians.

The three
parties have between them eleven seats in the 120-member Knesset, with one held
by a Jewish member of Knesset, Dov Khenin, for Hadash.
Abdel
Fattah said his Balad party had been urging the other parties to create a
coalition in time for the next general election to overcome the new threshold.
So far it
has faced opposition from Hadash, which is worried that an alliance with Balad
would damage its image as a joint Jewish-Arab party. A source in Hadash told Israeli daily Haaretz in
late September: “Hadash is not an Arab party, and there’s no reason it should
unite with two Arab parties.”
Abdel
Fattah said Hadash’s objections were unreasonable given that both Balad and the
Islamic faction believed it was important to include Jewish candidates on a
unified list. “Eventually they will have to come round to a joint list unless
they want to commit political suicide,” he remarked.

Falling turnout

Balad has
been under threat at previous general elections. The Central Elections
Committee, a body representing the major political parties, has repeatedly
voted to ban it from running. Each time the decision has been overturned on appeal
to the Supreme Court.

In 2007
the party’s former chairman, Azmi Bishara, was accused of treason while travelling
abroad and has been living in exile ever since.

But the
representation of all the parties is now in danger from the raised threshold.
Over the past thirty years, turnout among Palestinian citizens has dramatically
fallen to little more than half of potential voters, as the minority has seen
its political demands for equality greeted with a wave of laws entrenching
discrimination.

Among the
anti-democratic measures passed in recent years are laws that penalize organizations
commemorating the Naqba,
the Palestinians’ dispossession of their homeland in 1948; that provide a
statutory basis to admissions
committees
, whose function is to prevent Palestinian citizens
living on most of Israel’s territory; and that make it impossible for most
Palestinian citizens to bring a Palestinian
spouse to live with them
in Israel.
Uncompromising stance
Last
week, Balad MKs boycotted the
opening ceremony
of the Knesset, following the summer recess, in
protest at Zoabi’s treatment.
At a
press conference in the parliament, her colleague, Basel Ghattas, warned: “The
day is approaching when Arab MKs will think there is no use participating in
the political sphere. We are discovering more and more that we are personae non
gratae at the Knesset.”
On
Facebook, Lieberman responded that he hoped the Arab MKs would “carry out this
‘threat’ as soon as possible.”
The
increasingly uncompromising stance towards all the Palestinian minority’s
political factions marks a shift in policy, even for the right.
Although
no Israeli government coalition has ever included a Palestinian party, and the
Nasserist al-Ard movement was banned in the 1960s, Jewish politicians have
generally viewed it as safer to keep the Palestinian parties inside the
Knesset.
Analyst
Uzi Baram observed in Haaretz
that even Menachem Begin, a former hardline prime minister from Netanyahu’s
Likud party, believed it would be unwise to raise the threshold to keep out
Arab parties. If they were excluded, Baram wrote, it was feared “they would
resort to non-parliamentary actions.”

‘Paving the way toward fascism’

Zoabi
petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court against her suspension from the Knesset in
early October. However, the judges suggested she first use an arcane appeal
procedure before the Knesset’s full plenum to demonstrate she had exhausted all
available channels for lifting the suspension.

Israeli
legal scholars have noted the irregularities in the ethics committee’s decision
to impose a record-long suspension on Zoabi. The committee’s task is to
regulate parliament members’ behaviour inside the Knesset, not political speech
outside it.

Aeyal
Gross, a constitutional law professor at Tel Aviv University, warned that the Knesset’s
treatment of Zoabi was “paving the way towards fascism and tyranny.”

Gross
noted the extreme severity of the committee’s punishment of Zoabi, contrasting
it with that of another MK, Aryeh Eldad. In 2008 he called for Ehud Olmert, the
prime minister at the time, to be sentenced to death for suggesting that parts
of the occupied territories become a Palestinian state.
Eldad was
suspended for just one day, even though it was a clear example of incitement to
violence in a country where a former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was
murdered by a right-wing extremist, citing similar justification for his
actions.

Tyranny of the majority

The
Supreme Court, which has shifted rightwards in recent years, may not be
sympathetic to Zoabi’s appeal against her suspension.

In
September the court jailed
Said Nafaa, a former MK from her Balad party, for one year after he was
convicted of visiting Syria in 2007 with a delegation of Druze clerics and
meeting a Palestinian faction leader in Syria.
The crime
of making contact with
a foreign agent
is the only one in Israeli law in which the
defendant must prove their innocence.
The court
may also be wary of making unpopular rulings at a time when it is under
concerted attack from the Israeli right for being too liberal.
Ayelet
Shaked, of the settler Jewish Home party, which is in the government coalition,
has introduced a bill
that would allow a simple majority of the Knesset to vote to override Supreme
Court rulings.
Human
rights lawyers warned that the bill would further erode already limited
protections for minority rights.
Debbie
Gild-Hayo, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, warned that protections for
minorities from the tyranny of the majority would be in severe jeopardy as a
result. “These proposals wish to break down the checks and balances that are
fundamental to democracy,” she said.
Zoabi
remained defiant. She noted
that, while she was being hounded, the legal authorities had ignored genocidal
remarks made by Jewish politicians against Palestinians during the summer
attack on Gaza.
“They’re
putting me on trial over a trivial, meaningless matter, while ministers and MKs
who incited to racism and incited to violence and even to murder aren’t being
investigated, even after complaints were filed against them.”
She
added: “If I am indicted, I’ll turn the hearings into the most political trial
in Israel’s history.”
– See
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