An unlikely endorsement of Israeli democracy at ‘Comment is Free’

Jamal Zahalka is an Arab citizen of Israel, and the member of a political party which opposes his state’s existence.

He has received a BA, MA and PhD at Hebrew University.

In April of 2006, after a Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, during Passover, killed nine Israelis and wounded more than sixty, Zahalka met, not with families of the victims, but with top Hamas members, in a show of solidarity.

He and three of his colleagues visited Syria and Lebanon in September 2006, after the 2nd Lebanon War in a show of solidarity with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is an Iranian sponsored Shiite terrorist group in Lebanon whose goal is the establishment of an Islamic government across the Arab world. Their leaders have characterized Israel as a “cancerous entity” of “ultimate evil” whose “annihilation … is a definite matter”, and has called for the murder of Jews all over the world.

In 2009, Zahalka attended a pro-Hamas rally near the Gaza border, on the one year anniversary of Cast Lead, and accused Defense Minister Ehud Barak of enjoying “…killing children in Gaza.”

In 2009, the Israeli Central Elections Committee accused the party which Zahalka belongs to of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. 

Zahalka has also condemned Israel while speaking abroad in front of anti-Zionist groups, where he has called Israel an ‘apartheid’ state. He has also described the state as a “ethnocracy” and a nation which practices “racial colonialism”.

Yesterday, Nov.  4, Zahalka penned an essay at ‘Comment is Free’, calling for sanctions against Israel, which he characterized as a “racist”, “extremist” state that is suffering form an erosion in democracy. 

Oh, and one more thing.

Jamal Zahalka is an Israeli MK, and the leader of the Balad Party (National Democratic Assembly).

Imagine for a second what the reaction would be in the democratic US if a Congressman met with, and expressed support for, al-Qaeda figures or leaders of other proscribed terrorists groups committed to the destruction of the United States.  In fact, such acts are codified as treasonous in the Constitution, Article 3, which prohibits acts which have the effect of giving “Aid and Comfort” to the enemy.

The legal impunity Jamal Zahalka will continue to enjoy – the rights of citizenship, and special rights as an MK, afforded him by the very state whose existence he incites against – represents stubborn proof attesting to the continuing vitality of Israeli democracy.

Contrary to the illiberal politics in most of the Arab Middle East, democracy in Israel is thriving, and Jamal Zahalka is certainly using its full advantage.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Guardian-approved (Ben) White Lies

Ben White

It would be reassuring to be able to write that the latest Ben White screed on ‘Comment is Free’ is the result of misunderstanding, ignorance or shoddy research.

Equally, comfort could perhaps be found were it possible to assign the fact that such crude anti-Israel propaganda passed the inspecting eyes of a Guardian editor to ‘hasn’t got a clue about a far-away place’.

Neither of these statements is, however, true.

Ben White is a prolific and energetic campaigner against Israel’s existence, as CiF Watch readers have known for a long time. The Guardian knows that too and hence the publication of this article amounts to nothing more than collaboration with White’s ugly campaign of incitement.

Let’s have a look at some of White’s recycled claims. He begins by stating that:

“The presence of a few Palestinian members in the Knesset (MKs) is often touted as a sign of Israel’s robust democracy. Yet elected representatives of the Palestinian community inside Israel face growing harassment by the state, by fellow MKs and the media.”

Actually, of the 120 members of the current (18th) Knesset, no fewer than fourteen are of Arab ethnicity. Eleven of them are not mentioned in White’s article, indicating that the vast majority do not, as he terms it, “face harassment”.

The Likud party includes in its Knesset members Ayoub Kara, a former deputy speaker of the house who also sat in the 15th and 16th Knessets. Kadima has Majalli Wahabi, also a former deputy speaker and acting President who was once a member of the Likud and has served in the two previous parliaments. Ta’al has Dr. Ahmed Tibi – now serving his fourth term. Labour includes Raleb Majadele – the first Arab Muslim Minister who is currently in his third term as a Knesset member. Yisrael Beiteinu includes Hamad Amar and the United Arab list has Ibrahim Sarsur, Masud Ghnaim and Taleb el Sana who is currently in the Knesset for the sixth time. Hadash is represented by Afu Agbaria, Hana Sweid and Mohamed Barakeh – also a former deputy speaker now in his fourth term of office. Balad has Said Nafa, Jamal Zahalka – on his third term – and Haneen Zouabi.

All of these representatives took an oath of office upon entering the Knesset. That oath states:

“I pledge myself to bear allegiance to the State of Israel and faithfully to discharge my mandate in the Knesset”.

Indeed, like most citizens of democracies the world over, Israelis expect their lawmakers – regardless of ethnicity – first and foremost to uphold the country’s constitution and its laws. If they do not, then democracy is a sham. In the cases of the three Knesset members named by White, there have been alleged breaches of laws made in the parliament in which they sit.

Mohammed Barakeh of the communist party Hadash faces charges of assault. The fact that the incidents took place at demonstrations would presumably not excuse the alleged slapping of a policeman or choking of a soldier in any democratic country in which assault is a criminal act. Mr. Barakeh, incidentally, is a graduate of Tel Aviv University; hardly a mark of the downtrodden and persecuted.  

Said Naffaa of Balad was indicted on suspicion of breaking the law which prohibits visiting an enemy state without the advance permission of the Ministry of the Interior. That law too of course applies to all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. In addition he is suspected of having met with members of two terrorist organisations.

Haneen Zoabi – also a member of the anti-Zionist party Balad and a graduate of both Haifa University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – is most infamous for her co-operation with the IHH (banned in Israel due to its connections to the Union of Good and Hamas) during the 2010  incident and her involvement in assaults on Israel’s legitimacy such as the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.  

White’s concluding paragraph states that:

“Thus, as Palestinian citizens work for an end to decades of ethno-religious discrimination, a clear message is being sent through the targeting of their political leadership. The threat that is deemed intolerable by the state is devastatingly simple: the demand for equality.”

There are indeed citizens of all ethnicities and religions in Israel working hard to close the gaps and improve the situation of its minorities. Some of them can be found in the Knesset.  They are the majority of diligent Arab MKs – ignored by Ben White – who loyally serve their communities within the framework of the law and, whilst upholding their voluntarily given oath of allegiance to the state, work for equal rights and opportunities for all.  

As a distant relative of Haneen Zoabi complained last year:

“She and her party colleagues never deal with what matters to us,” 

“They are always dealing with the rights of the Palestinians, but what does that have to do with us? We need infrastructure, education, and our salaries to arrive on time. They don’t do anything, while the Likud is actually trying to help us.” 

Rather than indicating persecution of Arab members of the Knesset, the three MKs championed by White serve to highlight the fact that all citizens of Israel are equal in the eyes of the law.  In a true democracy, equality includes both rights and obligations – which cannot suddenly be shelved when it comes to prosecution for breaking the law.

But of course Ben White does not actually want people such as Zoabi, Naffaa and Barakeh to be bound by full equality with their counterparts of other ethnicities. He believes that those who actively work towards the dissolution of the State of Israel and sometimes co-operate with some of its most violent enemies should not simply get their day in court like anyone else, but should be permitted to carry on unhindered.

And if Israeli society balks at the transgressions of those using its very democracy to try to bring about its demise, White will play the ethno-religious card and scuttle to the pages of the Guardian or the New Statesman shouting ‘persecution!’ That very same tactic has long been used successfully by Islamists in White’s native country in order to deflect criticism of a whole host of problems within British society.

Fortunately, Israeli society is not yet cowed by so-called ‘progressives’ and ‘liberals’ who are prepared to sacrifice their collective values on the rotting altar of misguided political correctness.