Opposition Lawmakers Come Out for Expulsion of Ghattas From Knesset

Zionist Union has toughened its stance on the Arab MK suspected of intentionally smuggling phones to Palestinian security prisoners.

MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint List appears in the Magistrate's Court over suspicions that he smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners, January 5, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

Zionist Union has told the Joint List of Arab parties that if MK Basel Ghattas does not resign his Knesset seat, Zionist Union MKs will have the freedom to support his ouster.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has already approved Ghattas’ indictment for smuggling phones to Palestinians in prison for security offenses. Ghattas has said he believed the envelopes he had been given contained books, and in a letter Monday said the envelopes contained written material for a prisoner he had been helping for years.

Zionist Union’s stance is interesting because the party opposed a law passed in July allowing the expulsion of an MK for incitement to racism or supporting an armed struggle against Israel.

It’s not clear how Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog will vote on Ghattas; in July he tweeted that the ouster law was “a foul stain on the face of the government of hatred.”

Center-left Zionist Union is the largest opposition party followed by Joint List and Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid.   

Yesh Atid MKs are expected to endorse the request filed by a Likud MK to launch the impeachment process Monday. For the process to begin, it needs 70 of the 120 MKs, including at least 10 outside the governing coalition.

To ultimately achieve an ouster, 90 votes are needed. After heavy pressure on Lapid to support expulsion succeeded, the pressure is now on Zionist Union; only 78 votes have been secured thus far.

A number of Zionist Union MKs are considered likely to support the ouster process including Itzik Shmuli, Yoel Hasson, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Eitan Broshi and Eitan Cabel.

A number have said they will vote against. Revital Swid, who led the opposition to the impeachment law in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said only the courts should have the authority to remove an MK. The Knesset should not be allowed to act as both the investigative and judicial authority, she said.

MK Yossi Yonah warned that the use of the impeachment law against Ghattas would be a slippery slope. “Today it’s an Arab MK, tomorrow an MK of Ethiopian origin, and the day after an ultra-Orthodox MK,” he said. “We mustn’t  let this insanity happen.”

In his letter, Ghattas asked a number of MKs to shun the expulsion process.

“I’m not asking anyone to agree, or even understand, the circumstances of what I did, but I certainly expect you to support my basic right for equal and fair treatment, and to oppose all the discriminatory steps taken by the police and attorney general against me only because I’m an Arab MK,” he wrote.  

Ghattas called the process a form of punishment before the facts had been determined in court, so the MKs must oppose it out of “basic justice.” He said he would soon return to his Knesset activities within the limits imposed by the legislature’s ethics committee.

In the letter, Ghattas also attacked Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the police and the prison service for what he said was entrapment. He said that when he left Ketziot Prison plainclothes police were waiting for him.

Ghattas said he was on his way to a Finance Committee vote and therefore refused to go with the police. Only 10 minutes after he left the prison, Channel 2 had broadcast that he was suspected of serious security offenses, Ghattas added.  

“The police’s false leaks to the media continued, and within a few hours I was the victim of a media lynching, and a kangaroo court depicted me as a terrorist or an enabler of terrorism – someone who passed on coded messages and instructions for terror attacks and communications equipment for ‘terrorist organizations,’” he wrote.

“And of course my guilt was decreed and I became an ‘enemy of the people’ even before I was summoned for investigations.”

He said he had brought to the prison not phones but printed material for the prisoner.  

“My intention was to help him with the work of writing, translating and study he has undertaken in prison – the motives are purely humanitarian and for reasons of conscience,” Ghattas wrote.  

“I am willing to bear responsibility and pay the price for what I did, but I will fight with all my might against the attempt to turn me into the devil, a terrorist and the public enemy.”