Israeli Arab Political Party Calls Fraud Allegations ‘Political Persecution’

Over 20 Balad party officials arrested in probe of alleged funding cover-up.

Balad MKs Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas.
Emil Salman

Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka on Sunday rejected as false allegations that senior party officials had systematically and illegally transferred millions of shekels into the party’s accounts.

The Knesset member called the police investigation, which began a few months ago and was made public on Sunday, “part of a campaign of political persecution against Balad.” Party officials were notified Sunday afternoon of an additional round of arrests of party activists.

Zahalka was speaking at a press conference at party headquarters in Nazareth Sunday morning. Participants included leaders of Balad, representatives of the other three mainly Arab parties that together form the Joint List and the Chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, former MK Mohammed Barakeh.

Police searched suspects’ homes and offices and detained for questioning over 20 people, including senior party officials such as former Secretary General Awad Abd al-Fatah.

Balad’s MKs were not questioned by police.

Investigators suspect that for a few years figures in the party hid and falsified the sources of millions of shekels given to Balad, which were used to fund its activities, while making false reports to the authorities.

Zahalka said the matter had been raised by the State Comptroller and the decision to pass the matter on to the police for investigation was a political move. “This is a plot aimed against Balad in order to damage the political activities of the party — as they tried to damage the Islamic Movement [in Israel] and others, and we will come out of it stronger.”

As for the allegations that millions of shekels, which were supposedly received from various sources in Israel and overseas, were fraudulently reported as coming from hundreds of individual supporters in Israel, Zahalka said the money, which was collected from legal donations according to the party financing law, were intended for “completely legitimate purposes.”

“The wave of arrests is a wave intended to impose terror on fear on the Arab public and its political activity. If what is special for Balad is worth such a wave of arrests — then the police must first turn to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street [in Jerusalem] and raid it because the suspicions concerning it are much more serious and harsh,” said Barakeh.

The deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement in Israel and member of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, said “what was against the Islamic Movement and now against Balad is a sign that we are at the height of a road map against the Arab community and its political activity.

Haaretz reported the investigation in June, when the party linked it to a report on Balad’s funding in the 2013 local elections that was submitted to the State Comptroller’s Office in March. Balad MK Basel Ghattas said then that “this is about a report on the funding of the 2013 elections.” A party official noted that at least 150 people were investigated or testified.

The police confirmed Sunday that “the investigation began with the authorization of the [former] attorney general, according to the recommendation of the state prosecutor and following the findings of the state comptroller’s report.”