How to Handle Some Israeli Arab Lawmakers' Shameful Behavior

Although many Israelis are appalled by the recent actions of three Balad MKs, they should not be expelled from the current Knesset - but their party should be barred from running in future elections.

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Joint List lawmakers Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas.
Joint List lawmakers Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas.Credit: Noam Moskowitz
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

“Throw the rascals out” is the knee-jerk reaction to the recent antics of three Balad MKs – Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi, Basel Ghattas. They really do not belong in the Knesset, Israel’s legislative body. They back Israel’s enemies by meeting with the families of Palestinian terrorists and seek Israel’s destruction.

How did they get into the Knesset? As part of the Joint Arab List, of course. That list was cobbled together in response to Avigdor Lieberman’s idea to improve governance in Israel by increasing the threshold for a party’s entrance into the Knesset (up to 3.25 percent, from the previous 2 percent). Who do they represent? Not all of Israel’s Arab electorate, obviously. In fact, not even a substantial part of it.

Israel’s Arab citizens constitute some 17 percent of Israelis eligible to vote in Knesset elections. The Joint Arab List received 10.5 percent of the overall vote. In other words, about 65% of Israel’s Arab voters voted for it. Another 35 percent distributed their votes among the other parties contesting the election.

The Joint Arab List was the only Arab party contesting the election. It may well be true that for many Arab voters, voting for the Joint Arab List – in the absence of an Arab party whose platform was the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israeli society, the aim of many of Israel’s Arab citizens – it was a default vote. As long as the entry threshold is maintained at the present level, it is almost impossible for such a party to be represented in the next Knesset.

Balad was apportioned 23 percent of the Joint Arab List’s representation in the Knesset. Does this mean that 15 percent of Israel’s Arab citizens back Balad’s support of Palestinian terrorism? This is unlikely, but it would take an opinion poll conducted among Israel’s Arab citizens to determine that.

And now, after the shameful behavior of the Balad trio – honoring the murderer of Haim Haviv, Alon Govberg and Richard Lakin in a terror attack last October – should they be tossed out of the Knesset? Enraged by their behavior, most Israelis would agree to that. But on second thought? Expelling an elected member of parliament is definitely not a standard procedure in democratic countries.

It is true that a procedure for expulsion exists in the U.S. Congress and British Parliament, but it is rarely used. In the United States, after an investigation by the Ethics Committee and if that panel recommends expulsion, a two-thirds majority is required in the House or Senate to expel a congressman/woman or senator. The last two cases of expulsion occurred in 1980 and 2002. In both cases, a member was expelled because of criminal activity – bribery and tax evasion, respectively.

In Britain, there were three expulsions in the last century – all for criminal activity. Neither in the United States nor Britain was an elected member expelled for political activity. The United States didn’t expel lawmakers during the Vietnam War, when many members of Congress were active in their opposition to the conflict.

So, the question is whether an MK should be expelled from the Knesset for political activities carried out while serving in the Knesset. The views of the trio of MKs, which are reflected in their recent activities, were presumably well known to the voters of the Joint Arab List at election time. However, since Balad was incorporated into the Joint Arab List, voters had no way of targeting their votes for or against Balad. But since Balad’s positions were known when people voted, Balad MKs could well believe that they were acting consistently with the mandate given them by voters.

Since their activities are considered to be illegitimate by the vast majority of Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – their party, Balad, should not be allowed to be represented in the Knesset. It was a mistake not to pass an appropriate law barring them from running for the Knesset in the previous election. That should be done now to prevent them entering the next Knesset. But expelling them after they have been elected is both inappropriate and unwise.

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