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".

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

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

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To heal Britain’s cracks, it’s time for us northern graduates in London to return home

Isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

I’m from Warrington. The least cultured town in the UK. My town.

I moved to London almost exactly five years ago. Not because I particularly wanted to. Not because I wanted to depart the raucous northern town that I still call home. Because it was my only choice, really. I’d done my stint in the call centres and had some fun. But that couldn’t, surely, be my lot?

After university, I’d already started feeling a little weird and out of place back in Wazza. There were fewer and fewer people who didn’t look at me like I’d just fallen off a futuristic space flight that’d given me a different accent and lofty ideals.

Of course, that’s because most people like me had already skipped town without looking back and were all in the capital trying to strike beyond the ordinary.

The young, the cities, the metropolitan elite are still reeling after last week’s vote and wondering how people, half of our people, have got it so horribly wrong. We’re different, divided, done for.  

One thing I’ve clung onto while I’ve been in London is the fact that I’m from Warrington and proud. It might not be a cultured town, but it’s my town.

But I wasn’t proud of the outcome of the EU referendum that saw my town vote 54.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent to leave.

To be fair, even in my new “home” borough of Hackney, east London, the place with the third-largest Remain vote, one in five people voted for Brexit.

Yes, in one of London’s hottest and most international neighbourhoods, there are quite a lot of people who don’t feel like they’re being taken along to the discotheque.

Perversely, it was the poorest places in the UK that voted in largest numbers to leave the EU – that’s the same EU that provides big chunks of funding to try to save those local economies from ruin.

In many ways, of course, I understand the feelings of those people back in the place I still sometimes think of as home.

Compared to many suffering places in the UK, Warrington is a “boom town” and was one of the only places that grew during the last recession.

It’s a hub for telecoms and logistics companies, because, ironically, its good transport links make it an easy place to leave.

But there are many people who aren’t “living the dream” and, like anywhere else, they aren’t immune from the newspaper headlines that penetrate our brains with stories of strivers and scroungers.

Warrington is one of the whitest places in the UK, and I’m sure, to many locals, that means those immigrants are only a few towns away. There’s already a Polski sklep or two. And a few foreign taxi drivers. Those enterprising bastards.

We have never seriously addressed the economic imbalance in our economy. The gaping north-south divide. The post-industrial problem that politicians in Westminster have handily ignored, allowing the gap to be filled by those who find it quick and easy to blame immigrants.

When schemes like HS2, which is plotted to smash right through the place I grew up, are pushed against all of the evidence, instead of a much-needed, intercity Leeds to Liverpool investment to replace the two-carriage hourly service, it’s like positively sticking two fingers up to the north.

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

That’s not to suggest that our experiences in the capital – or mine at least – haven’t made us a thousand, million times better. 

I’ve met people who’ve lived lives I would never have known and I’m a profoundly better person for having the chance to meet people who aren’t just like me. But to take that view back home is increasingly like translating a message to someone from an entirely different world.

“You know, it’s only because you live in a country like this that a woman like you is allowed to even say things like that,” assured one of my dad’s friends down at the British Legion after we’d had a beer, and an argument or two.

Too right, pal. We live in what we all like to think is an open and tolerant and progressive society. And you’re now saying I shouldn’t use that right to call you out for your ignorance?

We’re both Warringtonians, English, British and European but I can increasingly find more agreement with a woman from Senegal who’s working in tech than I can with you.

It’s absolutely no secret that London has drained brains from the rest of the country, and even the rest of the world, to power its knowledge economy.

It’s a special place, but we have to see that there are many people clamouring for jobs they are far too qualified for, with no hope of saving for a home of their own, at the expense of the places they call home.

It’s been suggested in the past that London becomes its own city-state, now Londoners are petitioning to leave the UK.

But isn’t it time for people like me, who’ve had privileges and experiences not open to everyone, to start heading back to our local communities, rather than reinforcing London’s suffocating dominance?

We can expect local governments to do more with less, but when will we accept we need people power back in places like Warrington if we want to change the story to one of hope?

If this sounds like a patronising plan to parachute the north London intelligentsia into northern communities to ensure they don’t make the same mistake twice... Get fucked, as they say in Warrington.

It was Warrington that raised me. It’s time I gave something back.

Kirsty Styles is editor of the New Statesman's B2B tech site, NS Tech.