Ben White writes: The presence of a few Palestinian members in the Knesset (MKs) is often touted as a sign of Israel’s robust democracy. Yet elected representatives of the Palestinian community inside Israel face growing harassment by the state, by fellow MKs and the media.
On Monday, the trial of MK Said Naffaa, from the Balad party, opened in Nazareth. Naffaa is charged with “travelling illegally to an enemy state, assisting in organising a visit to an enemy state, and being in contact with a foreign agent” – all relating to a trip he made to Syria as part of a Druze delegation in 2007.
Naffaa has denied the charges, insisting that “all his activities and meetings fall within the framework of his duties as an elected public official”.
Two years ago the Knesset house committee voted overwhelmingly to strip Naffaa of his parliamentary immunity. At the time, the committee chair declared: “Holding a Knesset seat is not a permit to visit enemy countries and hold meetings with terrorists.” MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) suggested that Naffaa and “his colleagues go to the Syrian parliament and work from there“.
An editorial in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has called the prosecution of Naffaa “unwarranted, harmful and smack[ing] of political persecution based on nationality”. It is part of the state’s efforts to use criminal law against the Palestinian leadership in Israel. Another Arab MK, Mohammad Barakeh is still facing two charges (of an original four) relating to his participation in demonstrations in 2005 and 2007, and the allegation he assaulted or insulted police officers.
MK Haneen Zoabi, while not facing criminal charges, has been the target of the most vicious incitement and smears. Two weeks ago, a photograph was published in the Israeli media of her meeting with the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) speaker Aziz Dweik in the West Bank. That was followed by reports that two other Arab MKs had met with Dweik.
The response was an outpouring of invective. MKs from prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud urged the state to “immediately remove the fifth column from the Knesset”, while the chair of the house committee, MK Levin described Arab MKs as “competing [to be] the greatest traitor and terrorist sponsor”. Another Likud MK, Miri Regev, said that “the time has come for Arab Knesset members to realise their place“.