After a half-year suspension and a campaign to remove leading Arab member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi from office, right-wing parties succeeded in disqualifying her from Israeli elections next month. Yesterday 27 of Zoabi’s peers in the Central Election Committee, a working group inside of Knesset, decided she and hardline candidate Baruch Marzel had carried out incitement against Israel. Only six members of the Arab list and the far-left party Meretz voted to keep Zoabi in the running. By contrast, Marzel was voted out by 17 members of Israel’s parliament.
Both cases will now be reviewed by Israel’s high court. Zoabi’s candidacy is presumed likely to be reinstated as the charges against her stem from a mistranslated statement made during a radio interview last summer.
With the majority of representatives against her, Zoabi’s hearing yesterday was rocky. During her testimony she was heckled by other representatives, with one crying out, “you have the blood of our soldiers on your hands,” reported Israel’s YNet News. Zoabi did not hold back in response: “Those attempting to get me banned, they are the ones who should be here. These racists need to be stopped, we should not be holding ceremonies for revenge and incitement like the ones the Arab MKs are forced to undergo on a daily basis,” she said, continuing, “You are not judging me, but the entire idea of Arab representation.”
An unexpected backer for her ouster came from the Labor-Hatuna union, dubbed the Zionist Camp. That was the tipping point against Zoabi. At the same time, the centrist group also endorsed a separate campaign to remove rightist Baruch Marzel of the formally of the banned Kach party, which under the leadership of the late nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane called for the use of vigilante violence against Palestinians. Both Zoabi and Marzel were labeled as “extremists, from opposite ends of the political spectrum,” by the the Zionist Camp. It further declared the two guilty of “incitement, racism and hatred, to the point where it threatens democracy.” The centrist Yesh Atid, headed by prime minister hopeful Yair Lapid, also supported both proposals.
Labor’s backing of the measure elicited charges of pandering to the right-wing bloc. A statement by Meretz, reported in the Times of Israel, said, “The Zionist Camp has joined the shrill right-wing chorus of Zoabi-rejecters. Hanin Zoabi pushes the boundaries of free speech with problematic statements, and yet the attorney general concluded that such statements do not constitute support for terrorism and that he consequently does not support her disqualification.”
A lone dissident in the right-wing camp came from Likud’s Dr. Anat Berko who spoke in opposition to her party’s support of the ouster. “Democracy has to also absorb people such as [Zoabi],” she said to the Knesset Channel. “Zoabi needs to be in the Knesset.”
Supporting Hamas, mistranslated
The charge sheet presented against Zoabi to the election committee Thursday was muddied with the same flaws as her temporary censure issued last June. She is accused of supporting Hamas, evidenced by a mistranslation of a statement given during a radio interview over the summer–the same statement that caused her suspension. Zoabi was thought to have celebrated the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in June near Hebron by a cell with Hamas ties, eliciting calls of incitement and support to an enemy of Israel.
At the time Larry Derfner reported Zoabi did not refuse to call the abductors “terrorists,” nor did she laud their deed, as her colleagues had argued. Derfner said, rather a “media hit-job” marred with mistranslations and truncated quotes was mounted. Zoabi said of the culprits in the wake of the slayings: “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.”
Derfner noted Israeli dailies misreported what Zoabi had said. Yehidoth Ahronoth quoted her, “They are not terrorists. I don’t agree with you, they are people,” and Ma’ariv published, “I don’t agree with acts like these, but even if the youths are murdered, that’s not terror.” The mistranslated and truncated quotes were then re-printed throughout Israeli media with the exception of Haaretz and +972 Magazine (where Derfrner reports).
Pressure against her cooked last summer. Peers in Knesset lobbied insisted that she supported the killings of the three Israelis. For Palestinians, Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank was the most intensive period of Israeli raids since the second Intifada. In that climate, Knesset members relayed the incorrect quotes attributed to Zoabi as a manifesto from a turncoat.
“We are angry at Zuabi because in these difficult moments of solidarity,” [sic] wrote Likud’s Moshe Feiglin on his blog last June, “precisely at these intense national moments, this evil woman comes and adds insult to injury. We are furious, justifiably so.”
By the end of January the campaign against Zoabi hit a crescendo. Three petitions were filed to bar Zoabi from running in Israel’s upcoming March elections by Likud, Avigdor Lieberman’s Bayit Yehudi, and by Likud’s Danny Danon. The complaints fingered Zoabi as a Hamas supporter, which a crime in Israel. Overwhelmingly members of Knesset singed onto the call for Zoabi’s removal. But until last week the move to censure her from elections was only favored by the right-wing bloc, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Perhaps there has never been a figure in Israeli politics more controversial than Zoabi. She has protested the government, attempted to break the siege on Gaza by boarding the Mavi Marmara and encouraged Palestinian citizens of Israel to seek a “state for all of its citizens,” the platform of her Balad party, a self-described nationalist group running on a joint list with other Arab parties and Hadash, a Jewish-Arab communist union.
Speaking to Al Jazeera the day before her censure hearing, Zoabi said the campaign to disqualify her was “designed to score cheap political goals. It is not about me… [I]t is about their political maneuvering.” The Knesset member added, “From an ideological point of view, it is very crucial for Israel to persecute me as a deterrent for young vocal Palestinians.”
Zoabi has had to fight to participate in every election over the past decade. Zoabi has even been physically assaulted when speaking on the Knesset floor. In 2003, Zoabi was also disqualified from running, but ultimately Israel’s high court overturned the decision. It is expected this pattern will repeat as Zoabi intends to appeal the election committee’s ruling. “A tradition seems to be evolving in which the committee is expected to ban people from the election on the assumption the court will reverse the decision,” said high court jurist Salim Joubran.
“Legally the case to disqualify her is even weaker than what it was in the past,” Balad’s chairman Jamal Zahalka said to +972 Magazine. “There is a basis to the possibility that the court won’t disqualify her, even under the strictest legal interpretations. The biggest fear is of the politicization of the issue — that the judges will believe that it is very popular to disqualify her and will be tempted to do so.”