Leave Haneen Zoabi Alone, She's Proof Israel Is a True Democracy

Some would like to throw her out of the Knesset, but I say, let her stay. She is not smart enough to realize that she is doing Israel a service.

MK Haneen Zoabi speaking at a Joint Arab List event in Nazareth during the recent Knesset election campaign, Feb. 14, 2014.
Rami Shlush

MK Haneen Zoabi has a talent for raising the blood pressure of most Israelis. Some are almost driven out of their minds by her provocative statements accusing Israel of the most despicable crimes. Last week she was ranting and raving in the Knesset. The hysterical reaction by some of the Knesset members gave vent to their rage, but was not worthy of our legislature.

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Once we have cooled down, we realize that she is actually an asset to Israel. Her outbursts in the Knesset are proof that Israel is a model democracy. That the slander that Israel is an apartheid state and is going down a slippery slope toward fascism, is belied by her very appearances in the Knesset. Proof that not only can the freedom of speech existing in Israel serve as example to other democracies, but that there probably are no other democracies where this kind of slander against the state would be permitted. It is hard to imagine such attacks on the state in the American Senate or House of Representatives, the British parliament or the French legislature. Only in Israel.

Some would like to throw her out of the Knesset, others suggest that members of the Knesset leave the chamber when she comes to the podium. And I say, let her. Leave her alone. She is not smart enough to realize that she is doing a service for Israel.

But she is doing a disservice to Israel’s Arab citizens, who she claims to represent. Many of Israel’s Jewish citizens are led to believe that she speaks for Israel’s Arab population. That her views are their views. That they hate Israel as she does, and that they seek Israel’s destruction as she does. To all those, Jews and Arabs, who want to promote the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into Israel’s society and economy, her words are anathema.

Now go prove that support for her among Israel’s Arab citizens is restricted to a tiny minority among them. Throwing her out of the Knesset is not going to accomplish that. It is only Israel’s Arab citizens who can do that. But how?

The raising of the threshold to 3.25 percent for representation in the Knesset, one of the stupidest pieces of parliamentary legislation in the history of Israel, has made this devilishly difficult. Zoabi’s party, Balad, would most likely not have passed the previous threshold of 2 percent, and that would have demonstrated to one and all that her following among Israel’s Arab citizens was not significant. But raising the threshold forced all the Arab political parties to appear under one umbrella organization, the Joint Arab List, providing Zoabi and her associates a cozy place under that cover.

But worse than that, the impression is created that when she attacks Israel she has the backing of the Joint List and all of Israel’s Arab citizens who voted for the Joint List. That is an impression that only the leadership of the Joint List can dispel. Do they have the courage to publicly disassociate themselves from her invectives? That is a test for those who claim to be the leaders of Israel’s Arab community.

The real test will come in the next elections to the Knesset. Will a party whose platform is the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens contend these elections? That would take courageous leadership and a great deal of political skill, considering the difficulty of passing the 3.25 percent threshold. Or maybe our politicians will be smart enough to reduce the threshold before the next elections.

Barring these developments, the only choice facing the Arab voter who wishes to demonstrate his belief in the integration of Israel’s Arab community in Israeli society and economy is to vote for one of the non-Arab parties. Two excellent Arab parliamentarians who are a credit to the Knesset have led the way – MKs Zouheir Bahloul of the Zionist Union and Esawi Freige of Meretz. Maybe others will follow them.