Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi will not run for re-election in April, citing "character assassinations" and "ongoing incitement" levelled against her.
Zoabi – a Palestinian citizen of Israel representing the National Democratic Union (Balad) party in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) – told her party's central committee this weekend that she will not stand for re-election in Israel's General Election on 9 April.
In her statement to the committee, Zoabi said that "the time has come to change [my] place, but not the way, to strengthen the model of Balad, for the sake of a stronger Palestinian generation, a more stubborn struggle," Haaretz reported.
Explaining her decision, Zoabi claimed she had been subjected to a coordinated campaign to push her out of politics, saying: "[I faced] character assassination, ongoing incitement, unceasing attempts to make me disappear, to silence me, to distort my opinions and even my image [in order to] to distance me from the political arena." She added:
For me [these insults] were a mark of 'very good' given [to] me by all those against whom and against whose opinions I am fighting.
Zoabi has repeatedly been targeting by Jewish-Israeli members of the Knesset (MKs) for her criticism of Israel's policy in the besieged Gaza Strip and its occupation of the West Bank.
In December, Zoabi was "severely reprimanded" by the Knesset's Ethics Committee over comments she made about Israel's attacks on the Gaza Strip. During a Knesset debate, Zoabi had said that Palestinian civilians in Gaza had been "murdered by [Israeli] soldiers," prompting Likud MK Oren Hazan to file a complaint against her. The decision ruled that: "In this case, most of the members of the committee believed that the use of the expression 'murdered by the soldiers' was not worthy of the broad protection that the committee spreads over the freedom of political expression of MKs."
In June, then defence minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Zoabi to be dismissed from her position, describing her as a "terrorist" who "promotes terror" against the Israeli army. Lieberman asked his Twitter followers to write to their MKs and urge them to support the idea of expelling Zoabi from her post. Zoabi's Joint List colleague, Ayman Odeh, said he was "firmly standing by" Zoabi since her positions "are at the heart of the humanitarian situation that calls for ending the occupation and resolving the issue of refugees according to the international legitimacy".
Zoabi has also been critical of Israel's domestic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel – which constitute some 20 per cent of the country's population – most notably the controversial Nation-State Law passed in July. In October Zoabi, along with three other Balad MKs, vowed to boycott the first month of the Knesset's winter session in protest against the law, refusing to attend the Knesset plenum or committees during that time. The MKs explained their decision saying:
We consider our parliamentary representation as a tool of struggle […] We don't want [serving in the Knesset] to be nothing but a formalistic ritual, that will not allow us to influence the policies aimed against us, nor the deepening fascism and the establishment of a homeland that does not recognise the rights of its indigenous Palestinian population.
Zoabi is one of 13 MKs sitting in the Knesset under the Joint List banner, an umbrella coalition comprised of four Arab-dominated political parties: Hadash, the United Arab List, Ta'al and Balad. It is not yet clear whether the four parties will run together in April's election.
Last week, a new Arab party registered its participation in the upcoming election. The party – "New Horizon: An Arab Centrist Party" – was founded by 62-year-old Salman Abu Ahmad, a Palestinian from Nazareth who said he intended to improve the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel and take steps to end the chronic housing shortage facing the community. Abu Ahmad said he was open to joining forces with the Joint List should his party gain enough seats to pass the four-seat minimum threshold usually needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset.
Also last week, Hadash's Dov Khenin announced that he would not run for re-election, saying that he was leaving to invest his time in grassroots movements as opposed to Knesset politics.