Inter-Parliamentary Union Emphasizes that Revocation of MK Haneen Zoabi's Parliamentary Privileges Amounts to Illegal Punishment for Political Expression and Urges Knesset to Rescind its Decision; Adalah to Represent MK Haneen Zoabi

(Haifa, Israel) Following a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians held on 12-15 July 2010 in Geneva, the Committee issued a number of important decisions concerning the Israeli Knesset's revocation of MK Haneen Zoabi's parliamentary privileges. MK Haneen Zoabi was elected to the Knesset in 2009 on the list of the National Democratic Assembly-Balad political party. She is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset as a representative of a Palestinian Arab political party.

The Committee's decisions follow:

"Considers that, in revoking these parliamentary privileges, the Knesset punished Ms. Zoabi on account of her having exercised her freedom of speech by expressing a political position through her participation in the Gaza-bound convoy;

Considers punishment for the expression of a political position to be unacceptable in a democracy, and emphasizes that, on the contrary, democracy requires and indeed thrives on the expression and debate of different views, necessarily including those critical of government policies;

Considers also that the Knesset's decision to rescind the privileges in question may also impair Ms. Zoabi's ability to exercise the mandate entrusted to her by her electors and hence be detrimental to their effective representation in the Knesset; sincerely hopes therefore that the Knesset will reconsider its decision and restore the privileges taken from her;

Notes in this context also that the Attorney General has not brought criminal proceedings against her;

Is confident that Ms. Zoabi is afforded the necessary security measure and that those responsible for threatening her with death are identified and held to account in accordance with the law and Israel's international obligations in the field of human rights;

Requests the Secretary General [of the IPU] to inform the Speaker of the Knesset and the source of this decision and to inform them of its wish to meet, on the occasion of the 123rd IPU Assembly when it will continue examining this case, with the Israeli delegation and with Ms. Zoabi."

The IPU is a multilateral political organization, which brings together 155 national parliaments and nine associated regional assemblies. The Israeli Knesset is a member of the IPU. The IPU's Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians has often helped parliament members under threat to obtain protection or reparation. 


The IPU's decisions came in response to information provided to the Committee by the National Democratic Assembly – Balad and Adalah. Adalah Attorney Hassan Jabareen will represent MK Haneen Zoabi in this case.

MK Zoabi participated in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and was a passenger on the Mavi Marmara.  At around 4 am on 31 May 2010, in international waters, the Israeli navy intercepted and attacked the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships taking part in the flotilla. The attack left nine individuals, all Turkish citizens (one of whom had dual US nationality), dead and dozens more wounded. The flotilla was carrying around 700 passengers including human rights activists, journalists, parliamentarians and other civilians from 40 countries, in addition to 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and supplies. The purpose of the Freedom Flotilla was to protest and defy the illegal Israeli military blockade of the Gaza Strip by means of non-violent, direct action. The passengers on the Mavi Marmara were hospitalized, detained or deported, along with the passengers of the remaining ships in the flotilla.

As MK Zoabi enjoys parliamentary immunity, she was not detained but she was subjected to an extensive interrogation. She was one of the first eyewitnesses to describe what happened on the boat. Her description of the attacks contradicts the Israeli government's official version of the events and she has called for an international, independent inquiry into the attacks. 

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.  

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. Various Israeli ministers and MKs have called for the revocation of her Knesset membership, for her to be criminally prosecuted, and even for her Israeli citizenship to be revoked, as proposed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai. She has also received dozens of death threats. No Israeli government official has spoken out in support of her rights to life, liberty and freedom of expression.

On 13 July 2010, the 120-seat Knesset plenum voted 34 in favor and 16 against to approve the decision of the Knesset House Committee and to revoke the privileges until the end of the 18th Knesset.  Adalah, on behalf of MK Zoabi, will soon file a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against this decision.

IPU decision