Petition to Israeli Supreme Court: the Knesset's Revocation of MK Haneen Zoabi's Parliamentary Privileges is Illegal and must be Cancelled

HCJ 8418/10 Zoabi v. The Knesset

(Haifa, Israel) Today, 7 November 2010, Member of Knesset (MK) Haneen Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly-Balad), Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel against the Knesset's decision to revoke her parliamentary privileges for her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010.

Representing the petitioners, Adalah General Director Attorney Hassan Jabareen argued that the Knesset exceeded its power and acted against the Law of Immunity of MKs, which prohibits the Knesset from harming the rights of MKs for their political activity. The Knesset relied on the wrong legal assumption, namely that immunity does not protect the MK from the Knesset itself but only protects the MK's political activity from the intervention of the executive branch (i.e., from criminal indictment by the Attorney General).

In addition, the petitioners argued that revoking MK Zoabi's rights will create a dangerous precedent that allows the majority's representatives to punish the minority's representatives for political activity with which they disagree. This precedent might shake the foundations of the right of political freedom of expression and the right to be equal of the minority's representatives in the Knesset.

The process of revoking MK Zoabi's rights began with the submission of a motion by MK Michael Ben Ari (National Union) to the Knesset House Committee to revoke the parliamentary privileges of six Arab MKs including MK Zoabi because of their travel to Libya with the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel in April 2010. MK Ben Ari claimed that these Arab MKs are “traitors” and a “fifth column”.

This process ended with the revocation of the MK Zoabi's rights until the end of the current 18th Knesset for her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. On 7 June 2010, the Knesset House Committee decided to revoke three of MK Zoabi's parliamentary privileges, under its authority pursuant to Article 13 of the Law of Immunity of Knesset Members, Their Rights and Their Duties - 1951: (1) privileges in overseas travel enjoyed by MKs; (2) her diplomatic passport; and (3) the right for the Knesset to cover her legal fees should her immunity be revoked for the purposes of criminal prosecution. On 13 July 2010, the 120-seat Knesset plenum voted 34 in favor and 16 against to approve the House Committee's decision.

The petitioners described the incitement against MK Zoabi in the Knesset after her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which led to the revocation of her rights. The House Committee's decision followed several stormy sessions in the Knesset during which MK Zoabi was branded by fellow Israeli Jewish parliamentarians as a “terrorist” and “traitor,” and subjected to racist and overtly sexist remarks, as well as physical threats.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a multilateral political organization based in Geneva that brings together 155 national parliaments including the Israeli Knesset, denounced the Knesset's decision on the grounds that it violates a parliamentarian's freedom of expression rights, and called on the Chair of the Knesset to cancel this decision.

The petitioners argued that there is no legal basis for the decision. In deciding to revoke MK Zoabi's parliamentary privileges, the Knesset House Committee relied on a decision delivered by Justice Aharon Barak 25 years ago, with which two justices, Justices Shamgar and Ben Porat disagreed. According to Justice Barak, the MK's immunity does not protect him from the Knesset itself but solely protects him from the intervention of the executive branch. However, as Attorney Jabareen argued in the petition, the Knesset ignored two later court decisions delivered by Justice Barak in which he clarified his earlier decision. In the later decisions, he stated that a parliamentarian's immunity applies to his every political action and that the main goal of this immunity is to protect the minority from the majority, except in internal matters of the Knesset, such as violating the ethics or internal regulations of the Knesset. As the petitioners argued, it is clear that MK Zoabi's participation in the flotilla does not fall under the internal workings of the Knesset. Even the Chair of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin stated before the Knesset House Committee at the time that they are not allowed to punish MK Zoabi for her participation in the flotilla; that the committee is authorized only to revoke the privileges of MKs when they violate the Knesset's ethical rules or internal regulations, which is not relevant in this case.

The petitioners warned that the Knesset's decision not only endangers the status of the Arab minority's representatives in the Knesset but also it legitimizes the racist incitement against the Arabs in Israel in general. The purpose of parliamentary immunity, which was not considered by the Knesset, is to prohibit such situations.


The Petition (Hebrew)

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