Haneen Zoabi: Israel aims for ‘political assassination’
Al Jazeera spoke with the Palestinian MK targeted by Israel’s controversial new expulsion law.
Jerusalem – Palestinian politician Haneen Zoabi is the foremost target of a controversial new law passed by the Israeli Knesset, which allows the parliament to expel elected politicians for alleged misbehaviour.
The so-called expulsion law would allow a three-quarters majority of Knesset members to expel a politician if that person’s views are believed to have incited racism or supported an armed struggle. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog denounced the legislation as a “dark mark” on Israel, while human rights groups have criticised it as anti-democratic and a clear attack on Arab politicians such as Zoabi, who has repeatedly clashed with Jewish MKs.
The legislation was initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February after Zoabi and two Balad MKs visited the families of Palestinians killed in attacks against Israelis. Zoabi was suspended from the Knesset for four months, while the government advanced the expulsion law through parliament.
Al Jazeera spoke with Zoabi about the new law and its anticipated effects.
READ MORE: Israeli expulsion law ‘violates all rules of democracy’
Al Jazeera: What is the new expulsion law trying to achieve and what are the biggest potential dangers?
Haneen Zoabi: This law is a political cleansing law. The aim of this law is to reformulate the borders of the political activity and even the political discourse and speech of the Palestinians inside Israel.
By this law, Netanyahu, the right-wing with popular support, is trying not just to silence the Palestinians, but to go back to the political scene of 20 years ago … He believes that he can just delete the political achievement and empowerment which the Palestinians inside Israel have achieved in a difficult way, paying a price of persecution.
The danger of this law does not just lie if and when Israel activates the law. Even having this law without being active is a danger in itself. It can redefine the laws of the game even by being a silent law.
This law can activate self-censorship without forcing the Knesset to activate it. Having this law, a politician could rethink his discourse, rethink his activity, rethink his struggle - and this is so dangerous.
This law can activate self-censorship without forcing the Knesset to activate it. Having this law, a politician could rethink his discourse, rethink his activity, rethink his struggle – and this is so dangerous. The law has the ability to deter the Palestinian politicians from increasing their struggle.
Al Jazeera: Do you believe it was specifically designed to target Arab parties?
Zoabi: Of course. Although the law says it will be activated against any MK who expresses a racist statement, we know that racism in Israel is just what Palestinians say, and not what the Jewish MKs say.
Zionist racism is part of the game – it is the definition of politics to be racist towards the Palestinians. To be an Israeli patriot is to be racist towards the Palestinians. Of course this law is targeting Palestinian MKs – no doubt about it. They even [initially] named it the Zoabi Law.
Al Jazeera: Have you felt personally targeted or threatened?
Zoabi: Actually, I can say that my personal life has changed a little bit. Now, I am not going to mixed places without security from the Knesset. The Knesset has decided that I need security.
Netanyahu does not want to kill me – he knows that this would not be to Israel’s advantage. He just wants to politically assassinate me, not physically. I have changed my life slightly. I take considerations when I decide where to go and with whom, even. I am not the kind of person who is easily afraid.
Al Jazeera: How would you describe the political climate in 2016 for Palestinian politicians in Israel?
Zoabi: It has worsened – subjectively and objectively. It has worsened subjectively, towards me, my work and my relations and the ongoing incitement against me.
But this is not so important. It has worsened on the objective political level. This is more serious and important. You can see clearly the pace of the racist laws which Israel has passed in the last seven years.
If I am not wrong, the Knesset has 80 racist laws. Pay attention and you see that 30 of these 80 laws were passed in the last eight years. You can see a clear indication about deterioration towards not only racism, but a fascist racism. The shift in the last eight years is a shift from liberal racism towards a fascist racism because of the increased power of the settlers and the extreme right-wing in the Israeli elite.
Al Jazeera: How will you and the Joint Arab List challenge the legislation if it is implemented?
Zoabi: We are united against the law and have appealed to the court. What differs is [ideas of] how to struggle against the law and what action we should take when Israel implements the law.
The Balad national democratic assembly thinks that because of this law, we should think about a massive boycott of the Knesset if Israel activates this law, and an appeal to the international union of parliamentarians to expel the Knesset from the union.
But this forces us to engage in a very deep debate, which would be a very difficult debate within Palestinian society. There is not a serious discussion yet, but we will be involved in this kind of discussion.
This interview has been edited for length.