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Israel expels Arab MK from Knesset by appointing her in China

Arab MP Ghaida Zoabi (Knesset member, Meretz party, left) visits a Jewish religious school in the city center, partially burnt down during the clashes the day before, on 12 May 2021 in Lod, Israel. [Laurent Van Der Stockt/Getty Images]
Arab MP Ghaida Zoabi (Knesset member, Meretz party, left) visits a Jewish religious school in the city center, partially burnt down during the clashes the day before, on 12 May 2021 in Lod, Israel. [Laurent Van Der Stockt/Getty Images]

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid yesterday announced the appointment of Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, of the Meretz Party, as Israel's Consul General in Shanghai, China. Lapid and other officials hailed the move as Zoabi is the first Arab woman to head an Israeli diplomatic mission.

"MK Rinawie Zoabi comes with rich managerial experience and a diverse and impressive economic and public service background," Lapid said in a statement announcing her appointment. "I wish her success, and I am sure that she will lead Israel's Consulate General in Shanghai to new and important achievements."

Zoabi thanked Lapid for trusting her, seeing herself as a privileged Arab woman. "I am glad to have the chance to contribute to the important mission of strengthening economic, trade and culture cooperation with one of Israel's most significant economic partners in the world," she said, adding: "It is a great privilege to be the first Arab woman to serve in such a senior diplomatic role."

This measure was seen by many Israeli politicians and analyst as the expulsion of the MK from the Knesset, as a result of her rebellious actions. This way, she will have little impact on Israeli politics. In fact, she was removed from her public position as an MK to be buried in an overseas office swamped with a backlog of heavy work.

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Forty-nine-year-old Zoabi is a prominent activist for Arab Israeli rights and a businesswoman who served as executive director of the Injaz – Center for Professional Arab Local Governance. She was named in 2018 as one of the 50 most influential women in Israel by Forbes.

Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post said that sending Zoabi to China has a "political advantage" as moving her from the Knesset "could mean one less rebellious voter in the coalition." The Israeli daily cited her breakaway with the government coalition last month when she opposed the bill to enlist Haredim Jews in the Israeli army in protest against reinstating the ban on giving Israeli residence permits to Palestinians who marry Israelis.

The Times of Israel said moving Zoabi from the Knesset would give a better opportunity for the coalition government to go ahead without her attempts to undermine its stability, referring to occasions where she did not toe the line of the coalition.

It seems that following the resignation of Yisrael Beiteinu's Eli Avidar, who was a minister without a portfolio, from the coalition government, Lapid wanted to protect the coalition at any price in order not to allow it to collapse so that he could become a prime minister as per the rotation agreement held between him and Naftali Bennett prior to the formation of the government.

Jonathan Lis of Haaretz reported a source involved in decision making saying that Lapid appointed Zoabi in China to serve himself. "Lapid took action to improve the chances of making it to the rotation and reduce the risks along the way."

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In doing so, he is courting the Arab community in Israel, which is angry with the Israeli authorities over systematic discrimination and racism, Lis explained. But, while appointing an Arab to a senior diplomatic position, Lis explained. Lapid is also bringing in to the Knesset a member who is expected to strengthen the coalition.

"This move was a win-win for Lapid," Lis reported a source saying. "He [Lapid] promoted an Arab woman to a senior diplomatic post, and he also got a worthy new MK in the Knesset, Kati Piasecki, who will strengthen the coalition instead of undermining it."

Piasecki, a current member of the Bat Yam City Council, is expected to replace Zoabi in the Knesset as she is next in the Meretz list. However, Piasecki has historically shown animosity to Bennett.

When asked by Israel's Channel 12 News about previous tweets critical of Bennett, Piasecki said: "A lot of things have changed. Bennett has since formed a government that saved Israel from political chaos and freed us from Netanyahu who dragged us into this mess. It's not fair to pull out tweets from seven years ago. The political reality has changed, Bennett has changed, the political system has changed."

If the government collapsed, Lapid's dream of becoming prime minister would vanish. He has seized an opportunity and in the process saved Zoabi herself, who realised she would never make it into the Knesset on the Meretz list again due to her opposing positions.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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