Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Israel’s Knesset upholds longest suspension in state’s history against Haneen Zoabi

Israel/Palestine Allison Deger on November 2, 2014

For the next three months Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (of the Balad party) will not be allowed to speak on the parliament floor or introduce discussions in committee. Though she will be allowed to enter the building of Israel’s Knesset in Jerusalem, and sit quietly. Last Wednesday her peers confirmed her suspension from office, the longest in Israel’s history.

Zoabi’s sanction was originally imposed by the Knesset on July 29th, days after a police investigation was launched against her and almost a week before that investigation closed. Zoabi appealed that vote. Indeed, since taking office in 2009, maintaining her seat has been an enduring battle. She’s been physically assaulted while speaking in the Knesset by another government representative, labeled a terrorist for being aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010 as passenger in an activist flotilla to break Israel’s marine siege on Gaza, and faced petition drives to remove her name from the list of candidates in two election cycles.

The offenses that led to Zoabi’s temporary removal and latest bout to keep her seat are as follows: she has been accused of lauding the June kidnapping of the three Israeli settler teens who were then killed by their Palestinian abductors, and for speaking unkindly to police. They are matters of taste rather than matters of illegality. Still when Knesset was tasked with reviewing her appeal last week, 68 cast ballots in favor of maintaining her suspension while only 16 voted to keep her in office, most of them from Arab parties.

The row with Zoabi began when she was interviewed in June on an Israeli radio station regarding the kidnapping and killing of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha’er, and Eyal Yifrah. At the time Larry Derfner cataloged that nearly every Israeli outlet that reported on Zoabi’s remarks truncated them or outright misquoted her. This rendered the impression that Zoabi not only refused to condemn the act as “terrorism,” but that she supported the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. “Only in Haaretz did anyone read that Zoabi said from the beginning that she disagreed with the kidnappers and their deed,” wrote Derfner. However, a later Haaretz piece by Jonathan Lis also fell into the excerpt trap, “she told a radio interviewer that those who kidnapped three teenagers in Gush Etzion last week ‘are not terrorists,’” wrote Lis.

In fact the full quote, which Derfner republished in +972 Magazine days after the interview aired, showed that Zoabi was describing the kidnappings as blowback—and an act of blowback that she said she did not support. Here’s the relevant section:

‘Is it strange that people living under occupation and living impossible lives, in a situation where Israel kidnaps new prisoners every day, is it strange that they act this way? They are not terrorists. Even if I do not agree with them, they are people who do not see any way open to change their reality, and they are compelled to use means like these until Israel wakes up and sees the suffering, feels the suffering of the other.’

Still the damage was done. Israeli media featured pieces like Lis’s piece and more damning reports such as NRG’s article, which Derfner pointed out states, “Zoabi: Even if the youths are murdered, that’s not terror.”

Israeli government officials lambasted her. Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman said she should be killed: “The fate of the kidnappers and the fate of Zoabi, who incites and encourages the terrorists, ought to be the same.” And Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel said she has a “consistent tradition of supporting terrorists” and was not fit for Israeli citizenship “let alone a Knesset member.”

Coincidentally, Ariel is one of two current members of the Israeli government who have an actual track record of “terrorism,” or at least that’s how then-Minister of Defense Ehud Barak described a 2011 attack Ariel helped orchestrate. He and the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ze’ev Elkin turned over Israeli Defense Forces troop movements to a gang of 100 settlers who used the information to strike an army base. At the time Ariel was unapologetic. “If a person who transfers information about IDF movements is a spy, then I am a spy,” he said. “If others were arrested, I should be arrested as well.”

Ariel also took a shot at Zoabi during that investigation. He said, “Apparently, sending text messages is more serious than the seditious and dangerous activities of Haneen Zoabi.” He continued, “I hope there are enough prison cells for all of the residents of Judea and Samaria that send text messages occasionally.”

As a result of pressure from the likes of Lieberman and Ariel, a formal investigation was launched against Zoabi on July 25th. Police also looked into a separate incident that at the time they refused to disclose. Through media reported that Zoabi was being scrutinized for alleged incitement over allegedly calling police “traitors” outside of a courtroom where Palestinian citizens of Israel were on trial for demonstrating.

“The real incitement has been a flood of ugly statements from senior government figures since the summer – as well as regular acts of violence they have provoked on the street – against Palestinian citizens,” said Zoabi in a press release issued on Wednesday following her appeal. “No one is being suspended from the Knesset for that, nor investigated.”

In early August the probe concluded with police recommending that Zoabi be prosecuted for “incitement.” Again, this means Zoabi’s colleagues in Knesset ordered the six-month suspension before the matter was adjudicated. Zoabi has yet to be prosecuted in court for the original charge. And, even if Zoabi actually did call police “traitors,” it is dumbfounding that such a statement could be labeled incitement, especially when set against Lieberman’s response calling for her murder. It would seem then that Zoabi is being kept from her duties as public servant over a charge where there has been no conviction, and for an offense that is based on rumor and misquote.

- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/11/suspension-history-against#sthash.jT1JVLAU.dpuf

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