Sunday, March 27, 2011

ADALAH News Alert: Israeli Supreme Court to hold first hearing on Knesset censorship of Arab Knesset member

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27 March 2011

(Haifa, Israel) Tomorrow, 28 March 2011, at 11 am, the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem will hold a first hearing on a petition filed by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) on behalf of Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly-Balad). The petitioners are challenging the Knesset’s decision to revoke MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges for her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010. The hearing will be held before justices Uzi Fogelman, Salim Joubran, and Eliezer Rivlin.

On 7 June 2010, the Knesset House Committee decided to revoke three of MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges, under its authority pursuant to Article 13 of the Law of Immunity of Knesset Members, Their Rights and Their Duties – 1951: (1) privileges in overseas travel enjoyed by MKs; (2) her diplomatic passport; and (3) the right for the Knesset to cover her legal fees should her immunity be revoked for the purposes of criminal prosecution. On 13 July 2010, the 120-seat Knesset plenum voted 34 in favor and 16 against to approve the House Committee’s decision.

Representing the petitioners, Adalah General Director Attorney Hassan Jabareen argued that in making its decision, the Knesset had exceeded its power and acted against the Law of Immunity of MKs, which prohibits the Knesset from harming the rights of MKs for their political activity. The petitioners stressed that the Knesset had relied on the erroneous legal assumption that immunity does not protect an MK from the Knesset itself, but only from the intervention of the executive branch (i.e., from criminal indictment by the Attorney General).

The petitioners further argued that revoking MK Zoabi’s rights would create a dangerous precedent that allows the majority’s representatives to punish the minority’s representatives for political activity with which they disagree. Such a precedent could shake the foundations of the right to freedom of political expression and the right to equality for the minority’s representatives in the Knesset.

As the petitioners detailed, the House Committee’s decision followed several stormy sessions in the Knesset during which MK Zoabi was branded by fellow Israeli Jewish parliamentarians as a “terrorist” and “traitor,” and subjected to racist and overtly sexist remarks, as well as physical threats.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a multilateral political organization based in Geneva that brings together 155 national parliaments including the Israeli Knesset, denounced the Knesset’s decision on the grounds that it violates a parliamentarian’s freedom of expression rights, and called on the Chair of the Knesset to cancel the decision.

Or contact: Attorney Sawsan Zaher: 052-639-9147; Lana Khaskia: 052-325-9766

Nadia Ben-Youssef Law Fellow Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel 94 Yaffa Street PO Box 8921, Haifa 31090 Tel: +972(0)4-950-1610 Fax: +972(0)4-950-3140 Mobile: +972(0)52-580-7304 website: