In May of 2010, the Mavi Marmara sailed from Turkey with the mission of reaching Gaza. Remember? I will not go into details of what may or may not have happened, or what was or was not being transported, aboard that ship and its companions while they were in international waters.
Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi (Balad/Tajamo’) was on board, along with other leaders in the Palestinian community in Israel, including Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel–Northern Branch. Clear in her intent to demonstrate support for the human rights of the people of Gaza, upon her return to Israel, she was attacked by other Members of Knesset for her participation.
She was also threatened, before and after her participation, with legislation from MKs of right wing parties. MK Danny Danon (Likud) initially proposed a bill in November of 2009, dubbed the “Haneen Zoabi Law," to strip Members of Knesset of parliamentary privileges if they “‘[act] in support of an enemy nation or terrorist group engaged in armed struggle against Israel, [participate] in incitement to racism and [reject] the existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.’” The bill was then debated in June 2010, after MK Zoabi’s return to Israel.
At the time, Eli Yishai (Shas) also requested of the Attorney General that he be permitted to strip her of her Israeli citizenship [PDF] under the premise that her participation in the flotilla constituted treason.
Further, on June 7, 2010, the Knesset House Committee tasked with debating her punishment “recommended that the Knesset plenum rescind three of MK Zoabi’s rights as a member of Knesset (denial of rights requires the plenum’s approval): the right to exit the country; the right to hold a diplomatic passport; and the right to payment by the Knesset of a portion of a member of Knesset’s legal expenses if prosecuted for a legal offense. “ [PDF]
In the end, she did lose these privileges, though she was allowed to travel to countries with diplomatic relations to Israel.
Perhaps the most demonstrative insult hurled at MK Zoabi throughout this diplomatic and often-childish melee was a fake Iranian passport with her name and picture in it.
Fast forward one year. The French yacht, the lone remainder of the 2011 Flotilla, has been diverted to Ashdod and its passengers deported. On its heels, as if by clockwork, the Knesset stripped MK Zoabi of what remained of her parliamentary privileges and responsibilities; she has been reduced to near-observer status in the Knesset.
At the behest of Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), Danny Danon (Likud), and Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), “The Knesset Ethics Committee punished MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) on Monday for participating in last year’s Gaza flotilla, forbidding her to take part in all Knesset discussions until the end of the summer session – a decision Zoabi called “the decision of an automatic right-wing, racist majority.”
Though she will not be permitted to address the Knesset in debates or participate in committee votes, she will be able to vote in debates in the Knesest plenum.
Echoing her defenses from last year, she maintained in the face of this suspension that her participation in the 2010 Flotilla constituted “legitimate political activities, which are the right of every citizen, and certainly of a Knesset member...I upheld my right to political activity and freedom of expression, and did not break the law.”
Her suspension, too, comes on the heels of heated Knesset debates over bills calling for inquiries into Israeli NGOs, and the recent passage of the “anti-BDS” bill. When viewed in the broader context of the politics of the 18th Knesset, it becomes clear that “democracy” in Israel is a case of “democracy, but”: democracy if we like you, punishment if we don’t.