High Court rules against Zoabi, upholds Knesset suspension

‘In effect, from this day forward, Arab Knesset members will be subject to the political judgements of the Jewish majority,’  MK Zoabi’s attorneys say.

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected MK Haneen Zoabi’s appeal to overturn her six-month suspension from parliamentary discussions for a political opinion she expressed on the radio in June. As I reported yesterday, in deliberating her petition, the justices spent more time interpreting and judging Zoabi’s politics than whether the Knesset had the right to suspend her in the first place.

In its decision (Hebrew), the justices essentially chose “not to interfere” with the Knesset committee’s decision, and said they took into account that her suspension will end before the next election, it will not affect her ability to run.  The court agreed that Zoabi violated “rule 1a” of Knesset ethical conduct that a public trustee’s duty is to represent her electorate in a way that “promotes the good of the state.”

The justices wrote in their decision that while recognizing that her suspension is in fact extreme compared with past punishments, they are nonetheless ruling to uphold it “in light of the petitioner’s harsh words and the timing in which she said them,” referring to the fact that Zoabi said in June that the Palestinian kidnappers of the three Israeli teenagers (before their fate was known) are “not terrorists.” (For her entire statement, read my previous report).

The justices ruled four in favor and one against, the latter being Israeli Arab Justice Salim Joubran.

Responding to the decision, Zoabi said:

I was elected to the Knesset by popular vote, not out of charity. In the name of the Basic Laws and in the name of justice, the High Court should have defended my right to express my political opinions, which are outside the consensus, and to protect a minority’s representative from the tyranny of an aggressive majority. Unfortunately, the discussion was political and sensational and the High Court capitulated to political pressures instead of representing the law and protecting freedom of speech and the right of all citizens to equal representation.

Zoabi added that it is clear the Knesset Ethics Committee diverged from its authority in order to silence her, “and not just me but freedom of expression and freedom of protect of Palestinian citizens to protect inequality, oppression, racism and discrimination.”

Adalah and The Association for Civil Rights, who filed the petition on Zoabi’s behalf, said in a statement:

This is a dangerous precedent. For the first time ever, the court has decided that the majority can judge the minority solely on the basis of its political expressions – and impose radical sanctions ... In effect, from this day forward, Arab Knesset members will be subject to the political judgements of the Jewish majority.” 

Unrelated to the ruling, ACRI published a report on Wednesday highlighting what it described as the violation of freedom of speech during Operation Protective Edge this past summer:

This was particularly the case with regard to criticism of the military operation: police arrested some 1,500 demonstrators; city mayors attempted to prevent public protests; violent groups of nationalist thugs beat protesters; universities limited the freedom of speech of students and teachers; Arab employees were fired as a result of statements made about the conflict; and social media users attempted to “police” online discourse and sanction those whose comments deviated from the national consensus.

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