Marginalisation in Israel's Knesset

Arab members of the Knesset face what looks like the criminalisation of minority representation.

Arab members of Israel's Knesset (MKs) are accustomed to political marginalisation, as well receiving abuse and threats to their positions. Recently, however, there has been a further deterioration, as two elected representatives of the non-Jewish minority, Mohammed Barakeh and Said Naffaa, face criminal proceedings.

Barakeh is currently on trial for four separate charges, relating to incidents alleged to have taken place at separate public demonstrations between 2005 and 2007. Apart from protesting his innocence, the Palestinian MK claims that the process is politically motivated. Adalah, the legal advocacy group whose lawyers are representing him, agree -- they said that the indictment criminalised "legitimate political activities", and was an attempt "to harm the reputation and status of an Arab leader".

Hassan Jabareen, Adalah founder and attorney, described the kind of "friction" between Barakeh and police at the demonstrations as the sort of incidents "that happen at every protest". Barakeh himself has pointed out that "all the charges involve incidents that occurred during political protests" he attended as part of his "political responsibilities".

The Syria connection

While there are enough concerns about the trial to warrant the presence of an EU representative, Barakeh is not alone. MK Said Naffaa is also facing prosecution on charges related to a visit he made to Syria in 2007 -- for visiting an 'enemy state' without Interior Ministry authorisation, and while there, allegedly meeting with a senior official from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Naffaa appealed to the Knesset for protection from these charges on the basis of his parliamentary immunity, saying that the indictment was an attempt to "target" him. The relevant committee, however, voted 9-2 to strip Naffaa of his immunity, and declined to hear testimony from legal experts.

That decision was greeted by one Knesset member with the suggestion that MK Naffaa and "his colleagues go to the Syrian parliament and work from there". Another MK from foreign minister Lieberman's party declared her intention "to initiate a bill stating that anyone found guilty of such a violation would have their citizenship immediately revoked and be sent back to live in the enemy state".

Naffaa's visit was as part of a group of almost 300 Druze clerics. Naffaa pointed out the double standards: "After the delegation I travelled with, a delegation of Christians went, and no one was prosecuted". He also cited "a number of visits by Jews to rabbis' graves in Iraq, religious visits by Muslims to Saudi Arabia and religious trips by Christians and Circassians".

There are other examples. At the end of last year, another MK, Taleb el-Sana, took part in a demonstration at the Gaza border, during which the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addressed the crowd through the MK's mobile phone. In response, the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, asked the attorney general "to file charges against MK El-Sana for supporting a terror organisation".

Other leaders of the Palestinians in Israel, outside the Knesset, have been targeted. The leader of the northern Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, has been convicted of assaulting a police officer (he is appealing), and in October was banned from entering Jerusalem for 30 days. Typically, the Palestinian minority in Israel feels that it is subject to a different standard to their Jewish fellow citizens.

Adalah's lawyer, Orna Kohn, has observed that while Jewish MKs are stripped of immunity for allegations of corruption or serious crimes, revoking immunity for political activities was "very rare". It's not just MKs; during Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip just over a year ago, over 800 Israeli citizens, the vast majority Palestinian, were arrested during protests.

A third of those arrested were under-18, with 255 individuals ultimately indicted. By contrast, the Knesset recently passed a bill, 51-9, pardoning those arrested while protesting the removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005. These latest prosecutions are yet another indication of a disturbing trend in Israeli politics, particularly with regards to its Palestinian citizens, yet it has barely been covered by the western media.

Big Brother's watching you

These developments seem like the criminalisation of protest -- or even of minority representation itself. As the Balad MK, Hanin Zoabi, explained, taking away immunity "from the moves that actually set us apart from the Jewish MKs" -- for instance, visiting Arab countries -- means "you are in fact disqualifying our activity".

An editorial in Haaretz condemned the Barakeh and Naffaa prosecutions as "unwarranted, harmful" and smacking "of political persecution based on nationality". Charging Naffaa, the editorial continued, seems like a "warning" to Arab MKs "that the state is watching their actions closely", while the law that bars MKs visiting Arab countries "impedes their efforts to engage in public activity on behalf of their voters" and is specifically "discriminatory".

Meanwhile, the chair of the Knesset committee which lifted Naffaa's immunity was reported last month as saying that "Arab MKs are attempting to turn the Knesset into a platform for anti-Israel propaganda", and that therefore "a serious decision" had to be made "on whether or not these parties can continue to sit in the Israeli parliament, even while they operate against the country".

All this, in a country that claims to be the region's "only democracy".

 

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Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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