2/08/2016 Arab Members of Knesset Visit Terrorist Families Prompt Call for their ouster

Last Thursday, another in a long list of near suicide assaults by Palestinians on Israelis took place. These attacks have led to the deaths of 30 Israelis and countless more Palestinians. Thursday’s attack caused the death of an Israeli soldier, Hadar Cohen, a 19-year-old young woman who had been in the army for a mere two months. This incident was different from any previous attack; since this attack was carried out by three youths working together. Furthermore, instead of solely carrying knives, the attackers carried machine pistols and improvised explosive devices. The Israeli media barely took note of the very different, and nature of this attack. Rather, after publicly mourning Cohen, the media and much of Israel became engrossed in the controversy caused by the revelation that three Arab member of the Knesset visited with families of a dead terrorist several days before.

Earlier last week MK Haneen Zoabi, MK Basel Ghattas and MK Jamal Zahalka visited the families of the terrorists who perpetrated attacks to offer condolences and to endeavor to help induce Israel to return the terrorists bodies for burial. The three Knesset members, Zoabi, Ghattas, and Zahalka, are from the Balad party, the most radical of the parties that make up the Joint Arab List. Most Israelis were shocked by the visit and could not understand how a member of the Israeli Knesset could go to pay respects at the homes of dead terrorist; either directly or indirectly providing encouragement for their chosen path. The outrage against these Balad MKs was widespread across a broad swath of the political spectrum; their actions were widely condemned by politicians, from Prime Minister Netanyahu on down. Yesterday, at the start of the cabinet meeting Netanyahu stated:

Three Balad MKs went on a condolence visit with the families of murderers, people who killed Israeli citizens. I believe many in the Israeli public do not feel that these MKs represent them. We are sparing no effort to integrate Arab citizens into Israeli society, and they [Balad MKs] are doing the exact opposite – they are building walls of hatred. I try to imagine what would happen in the British Parliament or the U.S. Congress if MPs or Congressmen were to observe a moment of silence in memory of those who murdered British or American citizens. I think it would cause a great outcry, and rightly so.

Others, including MK Ilan Gilon, of the leftist Zionist Meretz party, criticized: "Balad MKs have lost their minds. This meeting was something between provocation, pure malice, and stupidity. Perhaps even all three.”

Netanyahu promised on Sunday, “I also plan to ask for a review of tougher legislative changes that would allow us to make sure that individuals who pursue this course of action won't be in the Knesset.” Today Netanyahu’s suggestion for action became clear – in the form of proposed legislation that would allow the Knesset to expel any member,a by garnering an overwhelming majority of 90 votes (out of the 120 members of the Knesset). Of course, the Israeli Knesset would not be the first in the world to allow for the expulsion of its members. The U.S. Congress can impeach members (though, not for what they say, rather only for perpetrating “High crimes and misdemeanors.”)

Amit Segal, political correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2, who is not know for his left-leaning views, called Netanyahu’s newly proposed law “dangerous”. Segal went on to say that while the suggested regulation might be directed at the Arab parties today, but could be aimed at any other party that hold what comes to be deemed an unpopular view. Zionist Camp party MK Tzipi Livni stated, “Today it is Arabs, tomorrow it is Knesset members that do not suit the government. It is not possible to stand on the sidelines and remain silent regarding this, not even (Kulanu party MK Moshe) Kahlon and (Likud party MK Benny) Begin, who were once part of the liberal movement.”

I asked MK Aymen Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List for his reaction to the proposed new law. Odeh responded:

The Prime Minister is, yet again, resorting to falsification and incitement. Netanyahu wants to rule Caesar-style, with the Knesset subject to the tyranny of the majority. We are strongly opposed to the Israeli government's commerce in human bodies. Netanyahu and his ministers know full well what the meeting in East Jerusalem was about. This is a fundamental human issue. All human beings, horrendous as their crimes may be, should be allowed to be buried. This does not conflict in any way with our principled moral stance rejecting violence against innocent people.

Lost in the controversy over the return of the terrorists’ bodies is a story that has received little attention – i.e. the fact that Hamas has been holding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers lost in 2014 Gaza War for the past 18 months.

The actions of the Arab parliament members, coming in the middle of a wave of terror, clearly test the limits of tolerance in Israeli society. Over a century ago, when writing about the limits of free speech, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that “free speech does not extend to the ability to cry fire in a crowded theater.” At the same time, democracies have been rightly judged by how well they protect the freedom of speech and views of those who are most despised by the majority. The actions of the three Arab members of Knesset and the reaction of the Prime Minister are clearly testing both boundaries.


Tonight in one of the speediest decisions in its history, the Knesset ethics committee suspended the three Arab Knesset members who met with the terrorist families until the end of the current Knesset session