Lawmakers Seek to Revoke Privileges of MK Hanin Zuabi

The Knesset House Committee yesterday recommended to revoke some of the privileges of Arab MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ), in retribution for her participation in the flotilla which sought to reach Gaza last week.

Zuabi in the Knesset yesterday.
Olivier Fitoussi

Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon, who was present at the meeting, said the move was merely a statement, completely devoid of any practical ramifications. The motion passed by a majority of seven to one. The only MK who opposed the move was Meretz's Ilan Ghilon.

The practical meaning of the motion, even if upheld by the Knesset itself, remains unclear. The rights which the committee has recommended be revoked from Zuabi include the following: the right to leave the country, the right to a diplomatic passport and the right to have her litigation fees covered by the Knesset if she is put on trial.

However, the right to leave the country was never tested in court and it is unclear whether stripping this right would withstand a legal challenge; the right to a diplomatic passport does not endow diplomatic immunity and other privileges, so its loss would have little effect on Zuabi; and legal expenses at any rate need to be confirmed by a committee headed by a judge.

No vote

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin decided not to bring the matter to vote for at least a week. Rivlin, who was outspokenly opposed to the move, said he wanted time to study the committee's decision and to seek the opinion of the Knesset legal advisor and the attorney general.

Emotions ran high at the committee meeting yesterday, with Ghilon and MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ) repeatedly being expelled from the room. Khenin strongly attacked the manner in which the meeting was conducted, protesting the conduct of committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud ).

"Even a field trial has a separate prosecutor and a judge, but on this committee MK Levin embraced both roles," Khenin said. "My legitimate questions on this issue were never answered and the chairman's only reaction was to expel me from the meeting, time after time."

MK Nitzan Horwitz (Meretz ) also criticized the motion to revoke privileges from Zuabi, along with other Knesset members who visited Libya last month. "This was a stupid, ridiculous trip. The participation in the flotilla was inappropriate and I'm wholeheartedly opposed to it," said Horowitz. "But the only question here is whether any laws were broken. If no law was broken, this entire discussion is political."

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ) responded by saying, "We accept that freedom of speech in a democracy is a very important value that overrides the value of state security. But where do we draw the line? Where it's no longer speech, but actions. We're angry because Zuabi really succeeded in causing damage to Israel."

Two MKs receive death threats

Meanwhile, two MKs from the United Arab List-Ta'al party yesterday received direct and unequivocal death threats. Around noon, a fax was sent to the office of MK Talab al-Sana, with the words "You're dead." Al-Sana also reported that he had been verbally assailed by a Jewish visitor to the Knesset earlier that day.

Arab MKsthreatened

Later on, a message was left on MK Ahmed Tibi's answering machine, in which someone said "Your days are numbered... you dirty Arab. You and all Arabs are going to die."

Both MKs filed complaints with the Knesset Officer, and al-Sana said he holds the right responsible for fanning the hatred. He said the atmosphere reminded him of the days ahead of the Rabin assassination.

The Hadash, United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad parties released a joint statement, saying they will "stand as one against the rising racism and fascism washing Israel."

Zuabi said the committee's decision was predictable, and added that she has been receiving messages of support from both Jews and Arabs since the flotilla raid.