Israeli Supreme Court urged to cancel Knesset\'s decision to suspend Arab MK Haneen Zoabi for six months

Petitioners: Decision is serious violation of MK Zoabi\'s right to freedom of expression and political participation; Ethics Committee acted without legal authority and with double standards.

On 7 October 2014, Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of Arab Member of Knesset (MK) Haneen Zoabi (Balad/al-Tajammu' party) against the Knesset Ethics Committee's decision on 29 July 2014 to suspend MK Zoabi from all parliamentary meetings for six months (until the end of January 2015).

The petitioners argued that the decision is a serious violation of MK Zoabi's right to freely express her political opinion and her right to political participation. Further, the petitioners contend that the Ethics Committee lacks the legal authority to impose such a sanction in this case. The petitioners also emphasized that the decision was taken despite the fact that the Attorney General (AG) refused to open a criminal investigation against MK Zoabi for charges of incitement. Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen (General Director) and Myssana Morany, and ACRI Legal Advisor Dan Yakir prepared the petition,

The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended MK Zoabi from the Knesset plenum meetings  based on statements she made in a radio interview in June 2014 about the abduction of three Israeli teenage settlers in the West Bank before their fate was known. MK Zoabi stated in the interview, "Is it really strange that the people who live under occupation and who do not live a normal life but live in a reality in which Israel kidnaps detainees on a daily basis; is it strange that these people commit a kidnapping? They are not terrorists, even if I do not agree with their actions, these people do not have any escape, ANY escape…These people do not see a possibility to change this reality, and so they are forced to use these means until Israel behaves a little, until Israel's society and Israeli citizens behave a little, until they look at the suffering and feel the suffering of others."

MK Zoabi's phrase "They are not terrorists" led to a wave of intense, hateful responses from the Israeli pubic, despite Zoabi affirming multiple times through Hebrew and Arabic media outlets that she does not support the harming of civilians. Zoabi explained that she refuses to use the word "terrorists", especially in the Hebrew media, since it reflects a unilateral Israeli point of view about the conflict in which it portrays Israelis as the sole victims.

The petitioners argued that the Ethics Committee decision against MK Zoabi is the harshest penalty that has ever been imposed by the Committee in the history of the Knesset regarding a single statement. It is also the first time that the Committee imposed a punishment on a statement that did not include any threats, incitement, contempt, slander, or defamation. The harshest punishment imposed by the Committee against a Member of Knesset based on political statements was the suspension of MK Aryeh Eldad from all Knesset meetings for only one day because of his statement against the Sharon-Olmert government, saying: "Whoever relinquishes an area under Israeli sovereignty must be killed."

Furthermore, in examining previous decisions of the Knesset's Disciplinary Committee, the petitioners stated that the Committee has so far refrained from imposing sanctions on much more serious statements made by other Members of the Knesset. For example, the Committee refrained from imposing a penalty on: MK Michael Ben-Ari, who described the members of the Peace Now movement as "traitors getting drunk in the valley of alcohol"; MK Eli Aflalo, who described MK Zoabi as a "traitor" and a "murderer"; MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich, who described MK Zoabi as "subversive" and a "terrorist." None of these statements received any punishments.

Read more:

Aeyal Gross, "With Zoabi's suspension, Knesset moves towards fascism", Haaretz, 30 July 2014

Jonathan Cook, "Israel's Gaza backlash targets Arab minority", Middle East Eye, 30 July 2014

Jack Khoury, "Zoabi questions fairness of police treatment, demands probe into threats on her life", Haaretz, 3 August 2014

Case Citation: HCJ 6706/14, MK Haneen Zoabi et al. v. The Knesset