Israeli Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalka opened the Balad party primaries on Saturday by announcing that his party is “not part of the Israeli left, but is an inseparable part of the Palestinian national movement,” according to a report by Israel’s Kan public broadcasting station.
The event, held in Nazareth, opened with the Palestinian Authority anthem and greetings from two former Balad lawmakers who left the Knesset under the shadow of serving the cause of terror against Israel.
Azmi Bishara, born into a Christian Arab family in Nazareth, is currently a resident of Doha, Qatar and holds a PhD in philosophy from Humboldt University of Berlin. He fled Israel in the wake of the 2006 Second Lebanon War during an Israeli criminal investigation in which he was suspected of supplying targeting information to Hezbollah on strategic areas in Israel, in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. Bishara fled Israel hours before he was allegedly to be charged with espionage and treason and was subsequently stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
Basel Ghattas, a Christian Arab from Rameh, is currently serving a two-year prison term in Gilboa Prison after his March 2017 conviction on aiding terrorists, breach of trust and a host of other charges after he was filmed smuggling 12 cell phones and 16 SIM cards to Palestinian Authority security prisoners in Ketziot Prison. Although he applied for early parole, his request was rejected; the parole board said Ghattas failed to express genuine remorse for his actions and had failed to enroll in a rehabilitation program. He has a PhD in environmental engineering from the Technion. Azmi Bishara is his cousin.
Zahalka served his final term as a Knesset member in the current session, but is to continue as the party’s chairman.
A known extremist, Zahalka slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a war criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands” as well as the head of the newly-created Israel Resilience party, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, saying his views are as extreme as those of Netanyahu.
The Balad party chairman also scorched fellow Israeli Arab MK Ahmad Tibi, head of the Ta’al party, albeit without naming him. Zahalka warned that those who broke away from the Joint Arab List faction will be “punished” on election day.
Balad holds four mandates of the 13 seats held by the Arab Joint List faction in the Knesset. After Saturday’s party primary, Mtanes Shihadeh led with the first spot on the party’s list of 16 candidates. Hibba Yazik was number two.