Balad should no longer be allowed in the Knesset and its MKs should be investigated for visiting Hamas sponsor country Qatar, right-wing MKs said Monday.
“Balad, the party founded by [former MK] Azmi Bishara, who was charged with espionage and fled Israel, clearly proves again to those who doubted it that they do not have a place in the Knesset,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said. “While Israel is still in a serious campaign against Hamas terrorists, Balad MKs went to Qatar and showed support for [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal and his friends.”
On Sunday, a Balad spokesman said the party’s three MKs, Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Bassel Ghattas, went to Qatar for media appearances last week, though they appeared on the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera several times while in Israel in recent weeks.
The spokesman also did not confirm or deny reports they met with Balad founder Azmi Bishara, who fled from Israel and resigned from the Knesset in 2007, as he was under investigation for giving information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
Liberman said Yisrael Beytenu will continue doing whatever it can to ensure “the fifth column representing terrorist organizations in the Knesset will find its place far from our house of representatives and behind bars.”
In addition, the Foreign Minister called for Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to examine the funding for the MKs’ trip, including their time in luxury hotels and whether they brought cash to Bishara or others, as well as whether the trip itself was legal and if they broke any national security laws such as contact with a foreign agent and if they lobbied Qatar to give money to Abnaa el-Balad, an organization that seeks to abolish Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
On Sunday, the Balad spokesman said the MKs paid for their own trip.
In an interview with Balad’s website, Zahalka said “Israeli incitement against Balad is one of the signs of an imbalance that comes from failing to reach the goals of its criminal war on Gaza.”
Zahalka called the responses to his visit to Qatar “hysterical, racist and fascist” and said he rejects any attempt by Israel to “determine the meaning of our relations with our Arab brothers.”
The Balad leader also said he is proud of Qatar for standing with the Palestinians in Gaza.
As for Bishara, Zahalka said “he continues to anger them [the Israelis] and bring up hostility and hatred, proving that Bishara did his job as a Palestinian nationalist and doing what is good for his nation and angers its enemies.”
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said “only in Israel can you have legislators and terrorists in the same party.”
Katz said that he amended the law to make it illegal for people who support terrorism to run for the Knesset and he had Bishara and Balad banned from running, via the Central Election Committee, but the Supreme Court overturned the vote.
“I am now preparing a new petition against Zoabi and Balad and I hope the Supreme Court won’t intervene this time,” he added.
Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) wrote a letter to Weinstein asking that he investigate the MKs’ visit to Qatar and ban their party.
“It is the right thing to do to investigate MKs Zahalke, Zoabi and Ghattas who traveled to the land of terrorism, especially when we know that all of the terrorism is funded by Qatar’s leaders and that the heads of Hamas live in Qatar, where they are defended,” Regev wrote.
“There is legal precedent for this in Israel. We cannot forget former MK Bishara, who was a traitor to the state and lived in Qatar, the shelter for terrorists,” Regev added.
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) said he plans to complain to the Knesset Ethics Committee about the Balad MKs, in order to examine who paid for their trip to Qatar.
“Three Balad MKs visiting the terrorism sponsor Qatar, which funds Hamas, and their meeting with the fugitive spy Azmi Bishara, is further proof of their activity that is hostile to the State of Israel, which they are supposed to represent,” Miller said.
Miller added: “If Zahalka and his partners are looking to meet with their spiritual leader Azmi Bishara, they should stay with him in Qatar and save us the theater of the absurd that they run in Israel.”
MK Yifat Kariv also petitioned the Ethics Committee to ask who funded the trip and whether they received the necessary authorization for an MK to travel abroad. When an MK asks for the authorization, he or she would have to write who is paying and the purpose of the travel.
“If they did not ask for authorization and chose to ignore Knesset regulations and trample the rules of Israel democracy,” Kariv wrote, “this committee must meet immediately to discuss the matter and whether to remove their [parliamentary] immunity and use all sanctions possible against the MKs.”
Last month, the Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from all parliamentary activity except voting for six months, following comments she made supporting Hamas attacks on Israel.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) wrote on Facebook: “Zahalka, Zoabi and Bishara met in Qatar. That’s not the beginning of a joke. That really happened!”
Danon added that he assumes that, since Qatar sponsors Hamas, “the three didn’t talk about strengthening the Zionist enterprise.”
The Likud MK vowed to continue trying to ban “extensions of Hamas and Hezbollah” from the Knesset.