MK Haneen Zoabi Appeals to High Court Over Knesset Sanctions

Arab lawmaker was barred from addressing the Israeli legislature for six months for saying kidnappers of three Jewish teens in June were ‘not terrorists.’

Tomer Noiberg

Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) on Tuesday asked Israel’s High Court of Justice to lift sanctions against her, following her July suspension from addressing the legislature or its committees for six months after remarks that were judged inflammatory.

After saying in a radio interview a few days after the abduction of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in mid-June that their kidnappers were not terrorists, the Knesset Ethics Committee barred Zoabi from addressing the Knesset through January 2015. Zoabi retained the right to vote in the legislature.

In the petition submitted on her behalf, lawyers from Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel argued that Zoabi’s remarks were protected by the right to free speech and should not be considered ethical breaches.

The petitioners also noted that after reviewing the issue, the attorney general decided not to order a criminal investigation of Zoabi for incitement because the MK also said she opposed the abduction.

Zoabi was broadly attacked after saying, before it became known that the perpetrators had murdered the teens, that the kidnappers “are not terrorists.”

She subsequently stated a number of times, to both Hebrew and Arab media outlets, that she objected to harming civilians. According to Zoabi, her remarks stemmed from her policy of not using the word “terrorism” in the Hebrew press because it reflected a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which the Israeli side is the sole victim.

The petition also stated that the sanctions against Zoabi were the harshest ever imposed by the Knesset Ethics Committee in response to speech, and the first time an MK was penalized for remarks that did not constitute a threat, incitement, foul language, defamation or humiliation of another individual.

The petitioners argue that the panel had declined in the past to sanction Knesset members, including Zoabi herself, for making harsh statements.

Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi attending a rally in Haifa against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, July 18, 2014, surrounded by police.
Rami Shllush