Politics

Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi in Jerusalem on February 17, 2015
The move follows controversial visits Joint List MKs paid to families of Palestinian terrorists

Israel's Knesset ethics committee on Monday approved the suspension of three Arab-Israeli lawmakers for their controversial visits paid to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were suspended for a period of four months and Jamal Zahalka for two months.

Israel's governing coalition on Monday approved an amendment to the country's Basic Law covering the Knesset, which allows for MKs to be suspended or even removed from their posts for engaging in "behavior inappropriate for their position as a member of the Knesset."

The amendment, an initiative of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stipulates that the suspension of an MK will occur only with a necessary majority vote of 90 Knesset members, Israel's Channel 2 reported.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman, Avigdor Lieberman called the punishment a joke.

"Rather than impose on them the maximum penalty, suspending them from the Knesset sessions for six months and garnishing their wages, and thus really discouraging such actions, the ethics committee has turned the case into a joke and by deciding on a punishment that is not serious demonstrates incompetence and weakness," said Lieberman.

Abir Sultan (Pool/AFP/File)

The Joint Arab List fired back the suspensions saying, "The Joint List condemns the incitement and agitation campaign led by Netanyahu, which prompted to the committee's miserable, anti-democratic and unethical decision. Even after the suspension we still demand the bodies held by the police to be released immediately."

The storm that led to the proposed amendment first erupted last week when three members of the Joint List party — MKs Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas — went to visit the families of Palestinian attackers whose bodies have not been released by Israeli authorities.

Among others, they met with the family of Baha Alian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. Alian killed three Israelis in a terror attack on a bus in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon Hanetziv on October 13. Over a dozen other passengers were also seriously wounded in the attack.

Speaking during Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he believed that "many citizens do not feel that these Knesset members represent them" and accused the MKs involved in the affair of "building walls of hatred."

He also said that lawmakers who visit the families of terrorists should "not serve in the Israeli Knesset".

Slippery slope

A Knesset official said on Sunday that the Knesset Ethics Committee has received over 450 complaints against the Joint List MKs, including ones by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, other members of Knesset, and bereaved families of terror attacks.

The official said it was the highest number of complaints ever received.

As the coalition moves forward, leader of the opposition Isaac Herzog expressed his objection to the bill, i24NEWS' Tal Shalev reported.

Jack Guez (AFP/Archives)

"The public's patience is exhausted," Herzog said at the Zionist Union's weekly faction meeting. "Balad MKs constantly provoke the state and support terror. They help the extremists that want to drag Israeli discourse to an abyss of hatred."

"Zoabi cannot protect the murderers of the three boys, Ghattas cannot provoke Israel's sovereignty by sailing to Gaza, and the public will not stand idle and see MKs commemorating heinous murderers who hurt innocent civilians," Herzog continued, adding that "This is a red line and we musn't stand idle. But the line cannot be set without thinking, it will start us on a slippery slope."

"The Knesset has many tools to take care of these phenomenon. We will wait for the attorney general's examination," said Herzog.

According to Shalev, Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union party warned of the international damage the bill could cause to Israel's standing as a democracy. "Netanyahus bill to suspend MKs will crumble democracy. You can prevent someone from running for the Knesset but you cannot banish a sitting member," said Livni.

Today its the Arab MKs and tomorrow it will be another MK that doesn't suit the government. Its a slippery slope. I have condemned the Arab MKs behavior but if someone breaks the law there are criminal justice procedures," she added

"If someone supports terror he should go to jail and if someone acts against a Jewish and democratic state he should be prevented from running in elections. If we expel them from the Knesset it will only hurt their voters and will further fuel tensions in society," Livni said.

i24NEWS' diplomatic correspondent Tal Shalev contributed to this report.

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