Minister Calls to Expel Israeli Arab Lawmaker Suspected of Helping Palestinian Prisoners

Israeli Arab MK Basel Ghattas suspected of smuggling phones to Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, claims investigation is 'political persecution.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

An Israeli minister called Monday to implement a new law and expel from the Knesset an Israeli Arab lawmaker suspected of smuggling cell phones into Israeli prisons for Palestinian inmates.

MK Basel Ghattas, from the Joint List party, is expected to be summoned for questioning by the police after the Israel Prison Services found 12 phones they suspect he smuggled into the Keziot Prison for Palestinians held on security-related offences.

Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin said Monday that "habit of serving lawmakers to openly support terror" must be put to an end. He said that "following the prime minister's request" he would work to try and immediately invoke a recently passed law which allows lawmakers to oust fellow legislators if they support incitement and an armed struggle against Israel. Critics of the law said it is intended to silence Arab lawmakers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to MK Zeev Elkin during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee  in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to MK Zeev Elkin during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem.Credit: Reuters

"As the criminal investigation will take some time to come to a conclusion, there is no reason [Ghattas]  will continue to serve in the Knesset in the meantime, receive a paycheck from the Israeli public and enjoy his immunity to support terrorism."

Meanwhile, the Knesset will hold a special session on the rights of lawmakers visiting prisoners and will examine the possibility of barring Ghattas from leaving Israel while the investigation is still pending.

If successful, it will be the first time an Israeli lawmaker a sitting legislator is ousted from the Knesset through the so-called Expulsion Law. According to the law, the Knesset can oust a lawmaker for incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against the state. The expulsion requires a majority of 90 lawmakers. Launching the expulsion proceedings requires the votes of 70 of the Knesset's 120 members, including 10 from the opposition.

Opposition lawmakers blasted the attempt to invoke the law, saying "the suspicions against Ghattas are severe and I hope the police will conduct and conclude their investigation swiftly.  

"However, the fact that Elkin jumps on the first chance he gets to take advantage of the government's power to serve as a kangaroo court for oust a serving lawmaker is unacceptable. Law enforcement officials should be allowed to finish their work without political intervention."  

After the news broke, Netanyahu said that if the suspicions against Ghattas turn out to be true, then this is a serious offense against national security and Israel's citizens. "Whoever harms national security must be severely punished and cannot be allowed to serve in the Knesset," Netanyahu said.

Police informed Ghattas that the interrogation regards the mobile phones.

A member of the political bureau of Ghattas' party Balad, one of the parties that forms the Joint List, Niveen Abu Rahmoun, was also questioned by the police.

Ghattas' office said they were surprised by reports that the investigation concerned mobile phones. Ghattas had not visited security prisoners for the past two months until Sunday, when he conducted his first such visit in a long time at the Keziot Prison in the Negev, his office said. However, the issue of summoning Ghattas for questioning arose a few days ago and is not connected to Sunday's visit, they said.

Ghattas said he would appear for the investigation after coordinating the time with the police: "It is clear the police are determined to continue the political persecution of the members and leaders of Balad and this entire conduct testifies to the policy of political revenge that does not frighten us and will not frighten us in the future either."  

Ghattas added that "visits to prisoners by Arab Knesset members are conducted in coordination with the Prisons Service and with the approval of the Public Security Ministry. I have nothing to hide, I will continue to represent the Arab public through legitimate political activity."