Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and Member of Knesset for Balad party, is being targeted by a new wave of incitement and racism.
The latest attacks, which have included threats serious enough to warrant supplying her with a bodyguard, came after Zoabi gave an interview with Radio Tel Aviv and discussed the current crisis over the abduction of three Israeli youth. Her full comment was as follows:
“Is it strange that people who are under Occupation and live an abnormal, in a context in which Israel kidnaps and detains people daily — it is strange that they act in this manner? They are not terrorists, even though I disagree with them. They are people who cannot see any other avenue to change their situation. And they forced to take those measures until Israel would wise up and see the suffering, would feel the suffering of the other.”
It is important to quote this in full, since the Israeli media and politicians have been claiming that Zoabi simply announced that the abductors are not terrorists – omitting her clear opposition to the action – or even that she expressed support for the kidnapping.
Zoabi also elaborated on her comments, confirming that she does not agree with the abduction, but that such acts were inevitable “if you don’t remove the context of occupation”.
Yet the response from senior Israeli ministers and fellow Members of Knesset has been extraordinary, vicious, and indicative of the ‘health’ of Israeli democracy when it comes to Palestinian dissent.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Zoabi as a “terrorist” who should meet the same “fate as the kidnappers”, clear incitement. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, meanwhile, said Zoabi “should be put on trial”, while Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel claimed that Zoabi is a “prize for terror inside the Knesset”. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau concurred, calling her “an ambassador of terrorism”.
The torrent of smears continued. Knesset Interior Committee chair Miri Regev called for Zoabi to “be deported to Gaza”, as Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely recommended that Zoabi’s citizenship “be annulled”. Coalition MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Jewish Home) suggested that “in a civilized country”, Zoabi would lose her citizenship and be “banished” forever.
Even Labor MK Hilik Bar joined in, saying that Zoabi “is consistently confused as to her location, behavior, and as to the question of which country she is in and in which parliament she is sitting”.
It remains to be seen whether appeals to the Knesset’s ethics committee, or efforts to pass legislation aimed at removing Zoabi, will be successful or not. Indeed, the Balad MK may not be re-elected regardless of efforts to expel her, as a result of the new law that raises the electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the popular vote.
Even as such abuse was being hurled at Zoabi, there were some who said that the presence in the Knesset of someone with such views is further testimony to the vitality and strength of Israel’s democratic system.
In fact, the much-touted presence of ‘Arabs in the Knesset’ is not the strong propaganda point that Israel’s defenders imagine. Firstly, those few Palestinian MKs who are in the Knesset are the subject of political and legal attacks in response to their activism and opposition to Israeli human rights abuses (an experience shared by other Palestinian citizens).
Secondly, they are limited in their ability to challenge the framework of institutionalised discrimination and legal privilege/exclusion, by their lack of power, and through legal restrictions.
Arab parties have never been part of a coalition government. In Israel’s 66 years, there have been around 600 government ministers – and two of them have been non-Jews (they served for combined total of 3 years).
In addition, according to the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure, a private member’ bill cannot be approved for debate if it “denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People“.
In other words, despite making up 1 in 5 of Israeli citizens, Palestinians “have effectively no influence on governance in Israel“. The persecution of Hanin Zoabi does not show the generosity of Israeli democracy: it highlights its narrow, exclusivist limits.