The decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to indict MK Haneen Zoabi is ostensibly aimed at marking the limits of political discourse in the State of Israel.
Zoabi is suspected of having called Arab policemen “traitors,” and of stating that “One should wipe the floor with those who collaborate with the oppressor against his own people; we won’t allow them to remain among us.”
These outrageous statements were interpreted by the state prosecution as constituting incitement to violence against Arab policemen and insulting public employees.
The law provides Knesset members with immunity from criminal prosecution with respect to acts committed during the fulfillment of their duties, and even allows them to ask for immunity if, among other things, charges are filed in bad faith while deviating from general prosecution policy. The substantive question is whether Zoabi will be prosecuted because she is an Arab Knesset member who systematically expresses herself in an aggressive and aggravating manner, or whether her prosecution stems from Weinstein’s fear for the quality of the country’s political discourse.
Under any possible answer to that question it seems that the attorney general hastened to intervene in issues that should be left to the public’s judgment, or at best to the Knesset Ethics Committee. This committee has already shown its muscle against Zoabi when it banned her from Knesset sessions for six months, simply because she said that those who had kidnapped and killed the three teens in Gush Etzion last summer were not terrorists.
The Israeli public must be concerned that it may not be Zoabi’s manner of expression that’s at stake. MKs from the right do not hide their belief that Arab MKs are subverting the foundation of the state and that some of them are traitors or functioning as a fifth column. One of those MKs, Danny Danon of Likud, made removing Zoabi from the Knesset a central element of his agenda in his Likud primary campaign.
Even if Weinstein’s decision to prosecute Zoabi is legally reasonable, he is surely aware of the Knesset’s inflammatory atmosphere. The decision to put Zoabi on trial plays into this atmosphere by giving it legal support.
It would behoove the attorney general to stop the process of prosecuting Zoabi and send the debate back to where it belongs – the Knesset Ethics Committee.