Attempt to Oust Israeli Arab Knesset Member Hits Legal Snag

Even though Basel Ghattas was filmed smuggling cellphones to jailed terrorists, Israeli parliament’s legal advisor says this does not constitute proof of security crimes.

MK Basel Ghattas at court on December 23, 2016.
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

The Knesset’s legal advisor refused on Tuesday to open proceedings to oust MK Basel Ghattas (Join List) from parliament, despite receiving a request to do so signed by the requisite number of Knesset members, because he said the request didn’t include evidence substantiating the claim that Ghattas had committed security crimes.

Legal advisor Eyal Yinon said the request must be resubmitted with such evidence, since the claim that Ghattas committed security crimes is the ostensible justification for his ouster.

Last month, Ghattas was caught smuggling cell phones to jailed terrorists. The attorney general recently approved filing charges against him.

By law, a request to start expulsion proceedings must be signed by 70 of the Knesset’s 120 members, including at least 10 from the opposition. This one was signed by 72.

But even once Yinon’s procedural objection is resolved, Knesset members predicted that the chances of actually expelling Ghattas were slim. The governing coalition had trouble rounding up even the 70 signatures needed to open the debate, they said, so it seems unlikely to be able to muster the 90 votes needed to approve an ouster.

Moreover, they added, it will be very hard to prove that Ghattas actually committed security offenses before he has even stood trial, so it will be hard to prove that the conditions set in the law have been met.

Votes against ousting Ghattas are expected to come from the Joint List (13 MKs), Meretz (five MKs), about half of Zionist Union (24 MKs in total) and probably also a lone Likud MK, Benny Begin.

Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), who took charge of rounding up the votes needed to open the debate, said, “Since most of the signatures were collected even before the draft indictment was unveiled, our letter to the Knesset speaker was based only on the material published initially. In consultations with the Knesset legal advisor, we’ve agreed to provide an updated version of the letter that will include the incriminating footage and the material in the draft indictment prepared by the attorney general, which shows clearly that MK Basel Ghattas’ actions definitely amount to abetting a terrorist organization.”

He said Yinon had agreed that the updated material could serve as a basis for opening debate on Ghattas’ ouster.