MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) announced this week that he intended joining a flotilla destined for Gaza. The Knesset House Committee’s recommendation to the Ethics Committee that it suspend Ghattas from the day he joins the flotilla and its announcement that it will consider withdrawing his rights are unacceptable infringements on an MKs’ freedom of political action.
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MKs are elected to represent the positions of their parties and the public that elected them. Imposing sanctions on an MK who participates in an activity that constitutes a political protest strikes at the heart of his role. The Gaza-bound flotilla may not be popular with the Israeli public and among most MKs, but unpopular ideas are the ones especially in need of protection.
The measures the Knesset is threatening to take against Ghattas are a clear example of the tyranny of the majority; in an ostensibly democratic move based on majority decision, they intend punishing whoever doesn’t believe as the majority does. It is an issue of the ratio between majority and minority, both as regards political positions and nationality.
These measures join a series of efforts to curb the freedom of Arab MKs who wish to resist the occupation, the most blatant of which was the amendment to the Basic Law: the Knesset disqualifying Arab candidates who support the armed struggle of terror groups or enemy states against Israel. The real purpose of the amendment was to disqualify Arab candidates and party lists who support Palestinian opposition to the occupation.
The Central Elections Committee disqualified candidates on these grounds in the past, and it was the High Court of Justice that defended democracy by reinstating them. The amendment to the law regarding MKs’ immunity was also aimed at allowing measures to be taken against Palestinian MKs because of their positions.
While the High Court did not allow the disqualification of Arab MKs and Arab lists, it did not intervene in the steps taken by the Knesset Ethics Committee against MK Haneen Zoabi because of statements she made during Operation Protective Edge, nor in the sanctions imposed on her after her participation in the 2010 Gaza aid flotilla, on grounds that her petition had become theoretical with the dissolution of the Knesset.
In those instances the High Court failed to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. One hopes that it will not fail again, if the matter of Ghattas comes before it. All MKs must remember that Ghattas is entitled to convey his views in a nonviolent manner, whether by defiant expression or through protest activities like the flotilla.
Beyond the parliamentary attempt to rein in Ghattas, it is important to remember that the purpose of the flotilla is to break the blockade that Israel has imposed on Gaza, which continues an unacceptable situation in which nearly two million people are closed up as if in a cage. Instead of “killing the messenger,” who is trying to increase awareness of an ongoing injustice, it would behoove the State of Israel to remove the blockade and help rebuild the Gaza Strip.