From the Editors
Briefing Note: Adalah's Representation of Arab Knesset Members--Protecting the Right to Political Participation
Adalah is currently representing four Arab members of the Knesset (MKs): Haneen Zoabi, Dr. Ahmad Tibi, SaNaffaa, and Mohammed Barakeh. The political leadership of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel faces sustained and severe attacks and harassment from Israeli government officials and incitement from extreme right-wing MKs. Arab elected representatives have been stripped of their parliamentary privileges, have had their immunity lifted, and now two members are facing criminal indictments for their legitimate and protected political activity. In another case, the Knesset refused to permit the introduction of legislation submitted by an Arab MK concerning the Nakba.
These attacks violate Arab citizens’ rights to genuine political participation, the MKs freedom of opinion andexpression, free association and peaceful assembly, and the right to equal protection of the law and non-discrimination before the law.
1. MK Haneen Zoabi:
The next Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday 5 June 2012 (HCJ 8148/10, concerning the revocation parliamentary privileges).
A second Supreme Court hearing is set for Monday 24 September 2012 (HCJ 9733/11, concerning MK Ben Ari’s petition demanding that the Attorney General indict MK Zoabi).
MK Haneen Zoabi was elected to the Knesset in 2009 as a member of the National Democratic Assembly–Balad political party. She is the first woman to be elected as a representative of an Arab political party. Adalah is representing MK Zoabi in two pending cases: (i) a petition submitted to the Supreme Court on her behalf challenging the Knesset’s revocation of some of her parliamentary privileges, and (ii) as a respondent to a petition filed by an extreme-right wing MK demanding that the Attorney General criminally indict MK Zoabi for various offenses.
The Knesset revoked certain of MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges following her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010. Additionally, Interior Minister Eli Yishai instructed Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to look into the possibility of revoking Zoabi’s citizenship. On 7 November 2010, Adalah and ACRI submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the Knesset’s decision, on behalf of MK Zoabi. On 26 April 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the Knesset to explain its decision to revoke her privileges within thirty days. In October 2011, the court decided to expand the panel to seven justices. The case remains pending.
Revoking MK Zoabi’s privileges (concerning overseas travel and legal fees if her immunity is revoked for the purpose of criminal prosecution) creates a dangerous precedent that allows the majority to punish minority representatives for political activity with which they disagree. It also completely contradicts the primary purpose of parliamentary immunity, which is to protect the right to political action of all parliamentary representatives on an equal basis. In July 2010, the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians issued a statement of concern regarding the Knesset’s decisions:
[The IPU] 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.
The Attorney General decided to close all criminal files against citizens of Israel tied to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, including that of MK Zoabi, on 22 December 2011. Immediately following this decision, right-wing MK Michael Ben Ari and right-wing activist Itamar Ben Gvir petitioned the Supreme Court to demand that the Attorney General file a criminal indictment against MK Zoabi (HCJ 9733/11, Ben Ari et al v. Attorney General et al. [case pending]). This second petition, coming after the investigation was already closed, is a clear demonstration of the persistent incitement by the right wing against Arab political leaders.
2. MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi : The next hearing before the Supreme Court is scheduled for 20 June 2012.
Dr. Ahmad Tibi is an elected MK from the Ra’am-Ta’al political party. He has served in the Knesset continuously since 1999. In July 2011, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of MK Tibi to challenge a decision by the Knesset Presidium, including MK Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset, and the Deputy Speakers, to prohibit discussion of a bill that MK Tibi had authored. The bill proposed by MK Tibi would have amended the recent "Nakba Law" by authorizing the Finance Minister to cut state funding to bodies that engage in a "public denial of the Nakba as a historic event, which constitutes a real disaster of the Palestinian people, including the Arab minority in Israel." The Presidium disqualified the bill on the grounds that it negates the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The refusal to allow the introduction of the proposed amendment to the "Nakba Law" is the first case in the history of the Knesset in which a a bill has been rejected based on Section 134 (c) of the Knesset regulations, which allows the Presidium to disqualify a bill before it is debated if it denies the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. The Adalah petition argued that, "this section [of the Knesset regulations] is extremely problematic as it violates basic rights and especially the right to equality and freedom of expression of parliamentarians." It is important to note that while MK Ahmad Tibi does oppose the definition of the state as Jewish and does believe in a “state for all of its nationalities,” the bill in question did not address this issue; rather, it focused on respecting the historical narrative of the Arab minority. The decision to reject the bill so summarily was therefore a radical misuse of the Knesset's power, Adalah argued.
3. MK Sa’id Naffaa: The next court hearing is scheduled for Thursday 28 June 2012, Nazareth District Court.
Sa’id Naffaa is a member of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), and has been an MK since April 2007. On 26 January 2010, the Knesset House Committee voted to revoke his parliamentary immunity in order to allow the Attorney General to criminally indict him in connection with a visit he made to Syria in 2007. Five years ago, MK Naffaa arranged for a group of 280 Druze religious clerics to make a pilgrimage to holy sites in Syria after they were repeatedly refused a permit by the Interior Minister. Syria is classified as an “enemy state” under Israeli law.
On 26 December 2011, the Attorney General submitted an indictment against MK Naffaa to the Nazareth District Court on charges of "illegally traveling to an enemy country" and assisting in organizing a visit to an enemy state. These charges fall under the “Emergency Regulations (Foreign Travel) – 1948” law, which originated during the period of military rule imposed on Arab citizens, and which clearly violates democratic principles. The prosecution also charged MK Naffaa with the vague security offense of "contact with a foreign agent," alleging that he met with Palestinian political leaders whom Israel considers to be heads of "terrorist organizations." This latter charge carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison. MK Naffaa has strongly denied this allegation.
Adalah and MK Naffaa maintain that the charges fall well within the scope of parliamentary immunity, and that they constitute political persecution.
4. MK Mohammed Barakeh: The next hearings are scheduled for 3, 5 and 9 September 2012 in the Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court.
Mohammed Barakeh is the Head of the ‘Democratic Front for Peace and Equality,’ (al-Jabha or Hadash); he has been an elected MK since June 1999. He was criminally indicted in November 2009 on four counts of allegedly assaulting or insulting a police officer and a right-wing activist during four different demonstrations: against the Separation Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, against the Second Lebanon War, and against the October 2000 killings of thirteen Arab Israeli citizens.
MK Barakeh has attended hundreds of demonstrations at which he often mediates between protesters and the police. MK Barakeh has been injured by members of the security forces while participating in other demonstrations. However, despite submitting complaints to the authorities, no police officer or commander was ever prosecuted for these assaults.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians affirmed in March 2010 that leading and participating in demonstrations was an integral part of the parliamentary mandate. It noted its concern that the charges were brought against MK Barakeh years after the events, and that complaints filed on his behalf against persons who attacked him and other protestors had not been properly investigated and/or no prosecutions had been initiated.
At a court hearing on 26 October 2011, the Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court dismissed two of the four changes against him, following motions and legal arguments by Adalah. The charges were dropped during the preliminary proceedings in the case, before any substantive examination of the charges. This strongly suggests that the indictment is weak and reinforces the assertions of Adalah and MK Barakeh that the charges amount to political harassment.
The latest hearing took place on 18 April 2012. During these evidentiary hearings, Israeli soldiers testified that they were sent to one of the demonstrations in question disguised as Arabs to act as agents provocateurs, throwing stones in order to create a pretext for other troops to deploy tear gas and make arrests. This is a clear example of illegal use of force by the police, and challenges the credibility of the claim that MK Barakeh assaulted any state security personnel.
[This article first appeared in Adalah’s Newsletter , Volume 93, May 2012]
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