Supreme Court Hears Petition against Revocation of MK Haneen Zoabi’s Parliamentary Privileges; Critiques AG’s Failure to Attend
Adalah and ACRI: “The Knesset’s decision is a dangerous precedent that infringes on freedom of political expression”
(Jerusalem) Today, 28 March 2011, the Supreme Court of Israel held a first hearing on a petition filed by Arab Member of Knesset (MK) Haneen Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly-Balad), Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). The petitioners are challenging the Knesset’s decision to revoke certain parliamentary privileges of MK Zoabi for her participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010. The petitioners argued that the objective of parliamentary immunity is to protect the right of political action for all representatives in parliament, and in particular representatives of minorities.
Representing the petitioners before the Supreme Court today, Attorney Dan Yakir, the Chief Legal Advisor to ACRI argued that in making its decision, the Knesset had exceeded its power and acted against the Law of Immunity of MKs, which prohibits the Knesset from harming the rights of MKs for their political activity. According to Attorney Yakir, “Regrettably, we are returning once more to inconvenience the Supreme Court because of the undemocratic initiatives of the Knesset. The court must now protect an opposition MK, who belongs to a national minority, from an attempt by a predatory majority in the Knesset to strip her of her rights.” Attorney Hassan Jabareen of Adalah prepared the petition.
At the hearing, the Supreme Court justices were critical of the fact that the Attorney General (AG) did not attend the session, either himself or by a representative, and stressed that his presence at the hearing and his legal opinion on these principle matters was important. The court decided to consider expanding the panel on the case from three to five justices and holding another hearing on the question of whether the Knesset’s decision to revoke MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges was legal or whether the Knesset exceeded its power. The Knesset’s attorneys did not respond to the legal issues raised by the case or bring legal arguments, but merely claimed that the revocation of MK Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges did not infringe on her right to express her opinion or her political activity.
The petitioners argued that the Knesset completely disregarded the fact that MK Zoabi’s participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a political activity that falls within her parliamentary immunity.
The petitioners further argued that revoking MK Zoabi’s rights would create a dangerous precedent that allows the majority’s representatives to “punish’ the minority’s representatives for political activity with which they disagree. Such a decision would totally contradict the primary purpose of parliamentary immunity, which is to protect the right to political action of all parliamentary representatives on an equal basis. Such a precedent could shake the foundations of the right to freedom of political expression for the Arab minority’s representatives in the Knesset.