Prominent Arab-Israeli lawmaker Haneen Zoabi is to be indicted for corruption over alleged abuses dating back to Israel's 2013 election.
Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, announced today that he intends to indict Zoabi, who served as a Knesset Member (MK) for Arab-Israeli party Balad from 2009 until her resignation from politics earlier this year, for corruption.
She faces charges of forgery, using forged documents, falsifying corporate documents, money laundering and attempts to receive fraudulent benefits in connection with Balad's 2013 election campaign.
The forgeries and fraudulent documents were allegedly filed to Israel's State Comptroller as part of the obligations of parties to comply with campaign finance laws, the Jerusalem Post reported today. The party allegedly received 3.2 million shekels ($920,000) without reporting on the funds in accordance with Israel's campaign finance laws.
Now Zoabi and as many as 35 other Balad members – including former party director-general Iwad Hussein – could now face charges for their involvement in the alleged corruption. They will be granted a pre-indictment hearing before Mandelblit hands down his final verdict.
Balad responded to the attorney general's announcement by rejecting the charges against its members, saying that Mandelblit's decision to bring up old charges at this particular time is an attempt to discredit both the party and its umbrella alliance, the Joint List, ahead of Israel's upcoming general election.
Balad noted in a statement: "This chapter of political prosecution will not undermine [the party] and its national democratic political project. It should be noted that the statement of the Public Prosecution does not include any charges against anyone of corruption or embezzlement, and that all charges revolve around what it considers irregularities in the official registration of donations made by Balad."
Other parties that raised funds in much larger amounts were held accountable, and the issue remained confined to the State Comptroller's office and was not transferred either to the police or to the prosecution
the statement added.
Meanwhile Zoabi said of the announcement that "for 20 years, the state tried to withdraw political legitimacy from the assembly [Balad], then from its representatives. We entered [Israel's] courts and withstood its incitement, distortions, appeals and racial and criminal crimes. Now they come up with 'corruption' and 'bribery' charges."
"Israel has failed to liquidate [Balad], its speech, its project, its cadres […] it will also fail now," she vowed.
Zoabi and indeed Balad more broadly have long been the target of abuse and incitement. In March, Balad announced it was suing an Israeli journalist who called the party a "terrorist organisation". Balad filed the defamation claim against high-profile Israeli journalist Amit Segal – who often works as a reporter on Israel's Channel 12 – demanding 280,000 shekel ($77,500), a public apology and retraction of all articles containing the comment.
The lawsuit claimed that Segal's comments were "malicious, offensive, cynical and irresponsible, with the goal of trying to embarrass the plaintiffs [Balad], spill their blood, incite against them and make them a target for hate using a publication that is false and incites to racism, violence and persecution."
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This came just a day after Mandelblit rejected a petition to ban Balad – which at that time was running as part of an alliance with other Arab-Israeli party Ra'am – from participating in April's general election.
The petition claimed that the alliances' members "seek to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state" and support violent Palestinian resistance, as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah. The petition was rejected by Mandelblit due to a lack of evidence. A similar petition was also filed against Israel's other predominantly-Arab parties, Hadash-Ta'al, who recently re-joined forces with Ra'am-Balad to resurrect the Joint List ahead of September's election.