Knesset Suspends Three Israeli-Arab Lawmakers Over Visits With Families of Slain Terrorists

MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were suspended for four months, and MK Jamal Zahalka was suspended for two months. 'Miserable, anti-democratic and unethical decision,' Joint Arab List says.

File Photo: MKs Basel Ghattas, Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zakalka from the Joint Arab List's Balad faction.Rami Shlush

The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended three Arab lawmakers on Monday, following a public uproar over their meeting with the families of slain Palestinian terrorists.

MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were suspended for four months, and MK Jamal Zahalka was suspended for two months. All the lawmakers are from the Joint Arab List's Balad faction. 

The lawmakers will be barred from attending the Knesset plenum the end of the winter session, but will still be able to vote.

Earlier on Monday, the coalition approved the tabling of a bill providing for the suspension of Knesset members;if supported by 90 Knesset members. The bill is precedent-setting in that it allows the Knesset to unseat a public representative for a period that the Knesset members themselves decide.

The draft, which was written by Immigration Minister Ze'ev Elkin, will now go to the Knesset Law and Justice Committee.

In an unusual step, however, the government decided Tuesday that the bill will not go through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation – a move which, in effect, would exclude Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit from having input if there legal contradictions are found in the bill.

Despite desire within the government to expedite the passage of the bill, it is expected to be presented for a first reading in the Knesset in two-weeks time at the earliest.

Zoabi and Ghattas received longer suspensions because of previous complaints against them filed with the committee. In the previous Knesset, Zoabi was suspended for six months over her remarks in favor of the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank. The suspension was most severe sanction leveled by the committee in the Knesset's history. However, shortly after her suspension the Knesset was dissolved ahead of the new elections. 

MK Ghattas visited the Temple Mount last October in defiance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's instructions barring MKs from the compound due to the violent tensions in the area. Ghattas also set sail from Greece on a Gaza-bound boat last June, in an attempt to break the blockade against the Strip. The boat was captured by the IDF before reaching its destination. 

Last week's meeting between the MKs and families of Jerusalem terrorists who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis was part of a campaign being conducted by the families and legal aid and human rights groups seeking the return of the bodies of their family members who were killed in the course of attacks and were now being held by Israeli authorities. 

The Joint Arab List said that the burying of the dead is a human and religious duty, shared by Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and termed the efforts to return the bodies "perfectly legitimate regardless of the circumstances of the death." However, the meeting was criticized across much of the political spectrum, and prompted the filing of a complaint with the Knesset Ethics Committee by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and some 450 members the public, all demanding harsh punishment for the three MKs.

Zionist Union MKs decided on Monday to also submit a faction complaint against the three MKs with the committee.

'Vindictive punishment'

Three of the Ethics Committee's four MKs – from the Zionist Union, Kulanu and Shas - voted for the suspension, and one voted against it – the Joint Arab List's Yousef Jabarin. Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben Reuven, who belongs to the party's dovish faction, accused the three Arab lawmakers of "inspiring terrorism and encouraging the murder of more and more Israelis." He added: "The Israeli Knesset will not allow its members to exploit democracy in order to harm the State of Israel and its citizens."

The Joint Arab List blasted the committee's decision. "The Joint List condemns the incitement and agitation campaign led by Netanyahu, which prompted to the committee's miserable, anti-democratic and unethical decision. Even after the suspension we still demand the bodies held by the police to be released immediately."

The Joint Arab List said that the committee's decision was punishing the MKs for taking a moral and human stand. "The vindictive punishment will not deter us, and we'll keep fighting against the policy of racism and fascism, and for true equality and real democracy, which Netanyahu is doing his utmost to eliminate."

Culture Minister and Likud MK Miri Regev said after the committee's decision was announced that she "hopes and believes that the suspension bill promoted by the prime minister will be swiftly legislated, so we can say 'goodbye and good riddance' to them."