Netanyahu seeks to suspend Palestinian politicians

Israeli PM announces bill to remove lawmakers from Knesset over visits to relatives of alleged Palestinian attackers.

Israeli Arab candidate Hanin Zoaby campaigns in Sakhnin, north of Israeli
Hanin Zoabi has been given a six-month suspended sentence for 'insulting' police officers [File: Atef Safadi/EPA]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed a bill that would suspend politicians who follow in the footsteps of three Palestinian members of the Knesset, including Hanin Zoabi, who visited relatives of alleged Palestinian attackers.

Netanyahu’s proposal on Sunday came after an Israeli court handed a six-month suspended sentence to Zoabi for insulting public officials in a separate case.  

As part of Zoabi’s plea deal, the court also issued her with a fine of 3,000 Israeli shekels ($750), placing her on parole for three years and stripping her of parliamentary immunity. 

The charges were levelled against Zoabi after she called Arab police officers “traitors” during protests held in 2014 in Nazareth, a Palestinian city in the Galilee region of northern Israel. 

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Zoabi is a senior member in the Balad faction of the Joint List, a popular electoral coalition among the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians who carry Israeli citizenship and live across the country. 

“Hanin Zoabi was sentenced for protesting against police treatment of young people during demonstrations, against torture, against arrests,” Jamal Zahalka, a legislator from the Joint List, told Al Jazeera. 

“It will not stop us from struggling for our civic and human rights,” Jamal added. 

During a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would promote the bill that, if passed, would require 90 votes in order to expel Knesset members for “unseemly behaviour”. 

He announced the bill after Zoabi, Zahalka and fellow legislator Bassel Ghattas met the families of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces while allegedly attacking Israelis. 

Zahalka said the proposal would be “anti-democratic and crazy” by enabling Knesset members to “throw democratically elected lawmakers” out of the parliament. 

“Netanyahu is doing this because he wants to gain more cheap popularity points by inciting against Arabs,” he added. 

Netanyahu and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein also filed a formal complaint against the three in the parliament’s Ethics Committee. 

Netanyahu accused Zoabi, Zahalka and Ghattas of “comfort[ing] the families of murderers, people who murdered Israeli citizens”. 

“Many Israeli citizens do not feel that these MKs represent them. We are making great efforts, a great investment to involve Arab citizens in Israeli society and [these legislators] do the exact opposite, they build walls of hatred,” Netanyahu said in a cabinet meeting on Sunday. 

From left to right, Arab politicians Hanin Zoabi, Bassel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka [File: EPA/Israel Hayom]
From left to right, Arab politicians Hanin Zoabi, Bassel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka [File: EPA/Israel Hayom]

“I would like to examine new and reinforced legislative changes to ensure that anyone who acts in this direction will not serve in the Israeli Knesset.”

Amjad Iraqi, an international advocacy coordinator at Haifa-based Adalah Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights, accused Israeli leaders of double standards. 

READ MORE: Hanin Zoabi – Israel’s ‘bad Arab’ 

“The key thing here is the pure double standard with which these kinds of measures are applied,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Iraqi alluded to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s recent visit to the the mother of an Israeli teenager accused of participating in an arson attack that killed three Palestinians in the occupied West Bank town of Duma last July.  


In December, Shaked, a member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, met with the unnamed suspect’s mother and Adi Kedar, a lawyer for Honenu, a group that provides legal support to Jewish settlers accused of attacking Palestinians. 

Iraqi also mentioned that Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett employs Nathan Nathanson, an Israeli who was a member of the Jewish Underground, considered a “terrorist” organisation by Israel. 

In 1985, Nathanson was sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in three separate car bombings targeting Palestinian mayors in the West Bank five years earlier. 

“Regardless of what one may think of visiting families on either side, the fact that Netanyahu only sees a problem when Palestinians are the ones doing the visiting illustrates the very targeted and discriminatory nature in which the government approaches what Palestinian lawmakers can and cannot do,” Iraqi added. 

According to Adalah’s online database, Palestinian citizens of Israel face dozens of discriminatory laws that limit their access to state resources and muzzle their political expression. 

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_ 

Source: Al Jazeera