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MKs Hanin Zoabi

The Knesset Ethics Committee on Monday issued a severe reprimand to MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint Arab List) over her “extreme” comments during a recent plenary debate on the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey.

During a June 29 debate on the deal with Turkey, under which Israel agreed to compensate the families of Turkish terrorists who were killed when they attacked IDF soldiers attempting to take over a Gaza-bound vessel, Zoabi, who had been on the ship during the May 2010 raid, said: “I stood here six years ago, some of you remember the hatred and hostility toward me, and look where we got to. Apologies to the families of those who were called terrorists. The nine that were murdered, it turns out that their families need to be compensated. I demand an apology to all the political activists who were on the Marmara and an apology to MK Hanin Zoabi, against whom you’ve incited for six years. I demand compensation and I will donate it to the next flotilla. As long as there’s a siege, more flotillas need to be organized.”

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During the plenary debate, Zoabi also said the reconciliation deal is an admission of guilt by Israel regarding the flotilla raid. Several MKs began shouting and moved toward the podium to complain about her inciting statements. As MKs were pushing against the podium, Zoabi shouted, “They murdered,” and “Shut up,” repeatedly. The Ethics Committee described the debate as “Exceptionally caustic,” saying that “at moments it seemed that it could deteriorate into physical violence and undoubtedly harm the dignity of the Knesset and its members.”

The Ethics Committee said it had received complaints against Zoabi from nine different lawmakers. The majority of the committee members said Zoabi’s statements were “extreme, provocative, not anchored in reality, and at the very least pushed the boundaries of freedom of expression for MKs.”

“However, because of the broad freedom of political expression MKs enjoy, together with the fact that the disturbances to her speech didn’t actually allow her to complete a sentence or an organized argument from the moment she had stepped up to the podium, there are no grounds at this time to increase her punishment for the content of her remarks themselves,” the committee ruled.

In her defense, Zoabi pointed out that she did not say the words “IDF soldiers are murderers,” as she had been accused, but the committee noted that the majority of its members accepted this explanation “with difficulty” and that other MKs and the public “justifiably” understood from her comments that she was accusing IDF soldiers of being murderers. They also said Zoabi misled Deputy Knesset Speaker Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beitenu) by telling him that she intended to apologize for her remarks, and when he allowed her back at the podium, ostensibly to apologize, repeated her inflammatory remarks, making the incident even worse than it already was.

Zoabi submitted complaints against several MKs who shouted at her, including MK Oren Hazan (Likud), whom she said yelled “offensive” things at her.

Hazan was also severely reprimanded by the Ethics Committee, which said he “undoubtedly was the one who instigated the commotion in the plenum and continued to fan the flames, breaking all acceptable codes of behavior.”

MKs Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), Nava Boker (Likud), Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) and Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid) were reprimanded with a “comment,” the lightest sanction by the Ethics Committee, for their conduct during the debate.

In its decision, the Ethics Committee called on MKs to “show restraint and allow appropriate discussions in the plenum, even when extreme remarks are made. As for getting threateningly close to the stage, the committee believes that doing so has the potential to erupt into violence and breaks the rules of behavior in the Knesset plenum. The committee wishes to warn the MKs that from now on it will consider serious sanctions in such cases, including suspension.”

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