Suspension of Zoabi from Knesset Raises Questions about Israeli Democracy

by Vins

In July 2014, the Knesset Ethics Committee banned MK Haneen Zoabi, the first Arab Israeli woman to be elected into Israel’s unicameral legislative body, from most Knesset activities for alleged incitement. Zoabi had stated that the June kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers, who were later found murdered, were not acts of terrorism. In contrast, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided that Zoabi’s statement was not a criminal incitement. Yet, on October 29, the Knesset voted overwhelmingly (68-16) to suspend Zoabi for six months from all legislative actions, except voting, according to the Jerusalem Post.

They then decided that her suspension would last six months, “the longest suspension in the Knesset’s history and the maximum punishment allowed under Israeli law,” according to Jonathon Cook’s Electronic Intifada report.

Independent news sources, including The Electronic Intifada, The Jerusalem Post, and Haaretz have reported extensively on this subject. They covered Zoabi’s initial suspension and followed her story of failed appeals to the Knesset and the High Court. Corporate news sources such as CNN and the New York Times, on the other hand, have not reported on any aspect of the matter, while Al-Jazeera America briefly mentions Zoabi’s suspension at the end of an article about Hamas’ terms for a ceasefire.

The notion of underreported or censored news, particularly on behalf of corporate news sources, comes up consistently in discussions surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This story is a prime example of such news.

Considering the fact that Zoabi is one of few Arab voices in the Knesset and the fact that the Attorney-General’s statement suggests that her punishment may be somewhat extreme, the lack of coverage on her suspension is surprising.

Whether or not Zoabi deserved to be suspended and for that long of a time is up for debate. However, on a grander scheme of things, independent news coverage on this matter raises questions regarding Israel’s validity as a democratic state where there truly is freedom of speech. In turn, it is not surprising that there is close to no coverage of this story in American corporate news sources, which historically tend to be pro-Israel. Such criticism of Israel’s validity as a democratic state is depicted in Aeyal Gross’ article in Haaretz on Zoabi’s suspension in which he argues that there is “a lack of understanding of substantive democracy [in Israel] and [that it is] effectively replace[d] with a dictatorship of the majority.” Is this idea of “a dictatorship of the majority” an inherent aspect of democracy or is it unique to Israel? Can we consider this to be a flaw of democracy – or at least Israel’s supposed democracy – and if so, what are the ramifications of this flaw? Finally, is it necessary for us to address these ramifications, and how can we do so, especially when events such as Zoabi’s suspension are underreported?

Sources:

Aeyal Gross, “With Zoabi’s suspension, Knesset moves toward fascism.” Haaretz, July 30, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.607924.

Lahav Harkov, “Zoabi suspension from Knesset to go to a vote.” The Jerusalem Post, October 27, 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Zoabi-suspension-from-Knesset-to-go-to-a-vote-379972.

Jonathan Cook, “Israel moves to outlaw Palestinian political parties in the Knesset.” The Electronic Intifada, November 4, 2014, http://electronicintifada.net/content/israel-moves-outlaw-palestinian-political-parties-knesset/13998.

Lahav Harkov, “Knesset legal adviser to High Court: Reject Zoabi’s petition.” The Jerusalem Post, November 6, 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Knesset-legal-adviser-to-High-Court-Reject-Zoabis-petition-381036.

Student Researcher: Mohammad Abdul-Rahim (Claremont McKenna College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)