AG: Arab Lawmaker to Stand Trial for Incitement to Violence, Pending Hearing

Yehuda Weinstein decides to charge MK Haneen Zoabi, who allegedly incited to violence against Arab police officers, offended a public official, during a July court hearing; her attorney says Zoabi is victim of discrimination.

Rami Shllush

Arab Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) will stand trial, pending a hearing, on charges of incitement to violence and offending a public official, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said on Tuesday.

Weinstein noted in his message that the decision was made following a recommendation from the unit for special assignments, that handles cases sensitive in terms of freedom of expression.

The incident for which Zoabi is expected to stand trial occurred last July, two days before Operation Protective Edge officially began. Zoabi allegedly offended Arab police officers that represented the government in a hearing at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court. Zoabi is said to have incited to violence against them and against other Arab police officers. The police sought to extend the remand of suspects detained for disturbing the peace in Nazareth following the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem, and clashing with police officers. According to suspicions, Zoabi raised her voice and called the Arab police officers traitors. Later, after a lawyer shook one of the officers' hands, Zoabi allegedly said that no one should speak to them or shake their hands, before yelling in Arabic to those in attendance to act against the Arab police officers who took action against Arab suspects.

Zoabi yelled “ostracism, we should spit in their faces, those who testify against our sons and daughters, those who work with the oppressor against their own people, we should clean the floor with them. Clean the floor with them. Not shake their hands, don’t let them be among us, they should fear us. When they’re in the street they should fear us. They should fear the ‘shabab’ that are arrested by the informants that they send, they are the ones who give information to the police that leads to the arrest of our sons and daughters. They stand here, the height of chutzpah. No fear, no respect, what happened? What chutzpah!.”

The state prosecutor’s office issued a statement on Tuesday that read “MK Zoabi’s statements indicated that she called for violence against the police officers that were at the scene, as well as other police officers of Arab descent who also work against Arab suspects. She encouraged similar acts of violence, which according to her statements, the way she said them, and the circumstances, there was a real possibility of her words leading to acts of violence against Arab police officers, particularly the ones at the scene, to which her words were directed.”

In response to the allegations, Zoabi’s attorney, Hassan Jabareen from the Adalah organization, informed the attorney general of her willingness to hold a hearing on the issue as soon as possible, in order to convince him to reverse his decision to put her on trial, for which there is no legal basis in this case.

Jabareen said “the state prosecutor’s office does not usually put elected officials on trial for momentary and spontaneous statements made during the heat of public political action, and thus if an indictment is issued, the prosecutor’s office will have to explain its discrimination against MK Zoabi to the court, as in dozens of similar, and even more extreme cases, no indictments were issued, nor were any investigations started.”

Last month, the High Court of Justice denied a petition submitted by MK Zoabi to overturn her six month suspension from addressing the Knesset and Knesset committees over comments she made following the kidnap of three teens last summer, when she said, among other statements, that the kidnappers were not terrorists

The attorney general decided not to open a criminal investigation into Zoabi's statements, saying that the lawmaker denounced the kidnapping at the same time, and repeated that denouncement in other instances. 

"Under these circumstances, there is real doubt whether these statements constitute incitement to violence or terrorism, as it is defined by the law. Therefore, and despite the fact that the MK's statements were severe, especially considering their timing, the attorney general decided not to open a criminal investigation against the MK on these statements."