Radical Israeli-Arab member of parliament Hanin Zoabi has Israel exactly where she wants it.
All she has to do is make some outrageous statement supporting Hamas, backing violence, opposing the Israeli military or whatever, and off they go with another round of denunciations, calls to throw her out of the parliament, strip her of Israeli citizenship, expel her to Gaza, charge her with treason, execute her, or worse.
So the more she speaks, the more she gets denounced, the more she gets headlines. And, she believes, the more votes she gets.
Her latest outrage, comparing Israeli police to Nazi storm troopers last week in Jerusalem, along with violent demonstrations in Israeli Arab communities, prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come up with this formula:
“I have instructed the Interior Minister to use all means, including evaluating the possibility of revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”
Exactly what Zoabi wants. Take action against her, give her more publicity, more votes.
There’s the real issue. People vote for her because of her views. So Hanin Zoabi is not the problem.
A democracy as strong as Israel’s can handle extreme comments from its representatives with no harm done. The real questions are — why does she keep getting elected, and what happens to her and her followers as a result in the long run? Do they find themselves relocated to a Palestinian state, or do they commit themselves to Israel?
Let’s dispose of the treason argument first. Here’s the definition: Treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.”
Treason requires actions, not words. You could make a case that her 2010 sailing on the Mavi Marmara ship challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was treason, but even that wouldn’t stand up to legal scrutiny, because that wasn’t an act aimed at overthrowing the Israeli government.
Israelis should be proud that in their country, people can get elected and say whatever they want. It was a mistake to ban racist rabbi Meir Kahane from the Knesset in 1985, too. As President Lyndon Johnson, one of the best politicians ever, put it — better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.
A parliamentary democracy like Israel grants immunity from prosecution to members of parliament for statements and actions in conjunction with their positions. Zoabi could be prosecuted if she sold drugs or took bribes. She cannot be prosecuted for making disgusting statements or taking inflammatory actions, even backing Israel’s enemies.
Nor should she. Israel would be better served by seeing to it that such statements cause her to lose support, not win votes.
Israel is strong enough to weather the outrages of Hanin Zoabi. It also needs to be strong enough to persuade her followers that her way leads to personal and national disaster.