Israeli Arab Lawmaker Under Suspicion Would Cooperate With Police, Attorney Says

The attorney speaks to Haaretz as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands an 'in depth' investigation and possible ouster of MK Basel Ghattas over allegations he smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners.

MK Basel Ghattas in the Knesset plenum in 2013.
Michal Petael

MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List), accused of smuggling cell phones to Palestinian prisoners, intends to cooperate in any investigation, his attorney told Haaretz on Monday. 

“We are in touch with police since the morning to coordinate a date. MK Ghattas will show up for questioning,” said the attorney, Khaled Titi. The lawyer denied allegations by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that police have not been able to find Ghattas and that “he has apparently gone underground,” as he and his aides had apparently turned off their phones.

Pressure has been building in Ghattas’ party, Balad, and the Joint List coalition to which it belongs for him to resign or suspend himself, sources told Haaretz.

Balad’s political bureau was discussing the matter after the Joint List instructed Ghattas not to attend Monday's Knesset session for fear of repercussions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks to his Likud faction that the accusations against Ghattas “call for an in depth investigation,” and urged lawmakers to join a call by cabinet Minister Zeev Elkin to oust Ghattas from the Knesset. 

“If the suspicions turn out to be true this would be a serious offense against state security and the security of the citizens. Whoever harms Israeli security must be severely punished and whoever identified with those who want to destroy Israel does not belong in Israel’s Knesset,” Netanyahu said.

Sources in Balad told Haaretz they were very surprised at the reports since Sunday of the allegations against Ghattas, and that they have no explanation. 

“We are in shock and understand the situation is difficult,” one source said.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh cautioned against rushing to judgment against Ghattas, after right-wing lawmakers demanded Knesset security upgrade its monitoring and conduct body searches as a condition for any lawmaker to enter the building. 

“The accusations against MK Basel Ghattas in the media are very serious, and therefore an investigation must clarify the situation rather than having him judged by a field court of lawmakers,” Odeh said, adding that that the lawmaker must be regarded as innocent unless proven otherwise.

“We reject the ugly attempts to exploit the situation to incite against the entire Arab public ...” Odeh said.