Knesset Panel Recommends Revoking Arab MK's Privileges

Decision to strip Balad MK Haneen Zoabi of privileges over Gaza flotilla participation passed by a majority of seven to one; Zuabi to Haaretz: We are victims of a witch hunt.

Tomer Noiberg

The Knesset's House Committee on Monday recommended revoking the privileges of Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi,  after she participated in last week's Gaza-bound aid flotilla which resulted in an IDF raid that killed nine activists.

The decision was passed by a majority of seven to one, with MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz opposing.

The Knesset committee recommended rescinding from Zoabi three key privileges usually granted to Knesset Members. One is the privilege to exit the country – which is supposed to prevent Zoabi from fleeing Israel if she commits a felony or has debts in Israel .

Another privilege is carrying a diplomatic passport, which according to the Knesset's legal adviser, is a privilege that does not grant diplomatic immunity so revoking it would not make it more difficult for Zoabi to fulfill her duties.

The third privilege is the right to have the Knesset cover litigation fees of an MK if he or she is put on trial.  

The revocation of Zoabi's privileges is conditional on the approval of the Knesset plenum.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin decided to hold off on discussing the issue in next week's Knesset plenum. Rivlin, who has opposed the move from the beginning, said he wants to study the decision and to receive the advice of the Knesset's and government's legal advisers.

The Balad party on Monday condemned the Knesset's decision to strip Zoabi of her privileges.

"The decision is racist and anti-democratic," Balad said in a statement. "The MKs who incite against Zoabi spill her blood – they are calling on the public to harm her and following their decision, her life will be threatened. These MKs will be responsible for any harm that may be caused to her."

Earlier on Monday, Zoabi  told Haaretz  that the members of her Israeli Arab party have been victims of a witch hunt following the Gaza flotilla affair.

Zoabi told Haaretz that the Knesset discussion, which she and members of her party boycotted, erodes the boundaries of democracy. Zoabi said, however, that the Israeli media emphasizes the protests against her, while in reality, she has received wide support from the Israeli public.

"I receive messages from people that I don't even know who understand what I have been saying for months - that Balad party members have been victims of a witch hunt," Zoabi told Haaretz.

  Likud MK Yariv Levin, who serves as chairman of the Knesset House Committee, said before the discussion that Haneen Zoabi betrayed the State of Israel and she must be put on trial.

  "What Zoabi did crossed the line and even in a democracy there must be red lines. Whoever sails to Hamas is a supporter of terror," said Levin.