Inter-Parliamentary Union  
Chemin du Pommier 5, C.P. 330, CH-1218 Le Grand-Saconnex/Geneva, Switzerland  


Decision adopted unanimously by the IPU Governing Council at its 195th session
(Geneva, 16 October 2014)

The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union,

Having before it the case of Ms. Haneen Zoabi, a member of the Knesset of Israel, which has been examined by the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians pursuant to the Procedure for the examination and treatment of complaints (Annex I of the revised rules and practices),

Considering the following information provided by the complainant:

  • On 29 July 2014, the Knesset’s Ethics Committee decided to suspend for six months Ms. Haneen Zoabi’s right to make speeches in the Knesset and submit parliamentary questions or initiate debates in committees or the Knesset plenary, reportedly because it considered that Ms. Zoabi had made statements that “deviated from the realm of legitimate expression” for a member of the Knesset. According to the complainant, the suspension is the longest in the Knesset’s history and the maximum the Committee can impose under Israeli law;

  • According to the complainant, the issue at the centre of the Ethics Committee’s decision was an interview Ms. Zoabi gave on Radio Tel Aviv on 17 June 2014, five days after three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank, at which time it was not known that they had been killed. Ms. Zoabi upset the interviewer and many listeners by refusing to describe the abductors simplistically as “terrorists”. Instead, she responded: “Is it strange that people living under occupation and living impossible lives, in a situation where Israel kidnaps new prisoners every day, is it strange that they act this way? They are not terrorists. Even if I do not agree with them, they are people who do not see any way open to change their reality, and they are compelled to use means like these until Israel wakes up and sees the suffering, feels the suffering of the other.” The complainant affirms that almost all media coverage and even a reference to this statement by the Knesset Ethics Committee left out the part in which Ms. Zoabi said that she did “not agree” with the kidnapping;

  • The Attorney-General’s Office reportedly announced on 24 July 2014 that it would not order a police investigation for incitement regarding the interview. According to the complainant, the Deputy Attorney-General, Mr. Raz Nizri, admitted that there was a difficulty in seeing the statements as incitement to commit kidnapping;

  • On 7 October 2014, Ms. Zoabi filed a petition with the High Court of Justice, which is still pending, to strike down the six-month suspension,
Considering that the complainant affirms that the decision by the Ethics Committee is part of a campaign of persecution, a situation that has reportedly been highlighted by Israeli legal experts,

Considering also that, according to the complainant, Ms. Zoabi’s punishment is discriminatory and that an example thereof is that when former Knesset member Aryeh Eldad called in 2008 for Mr. Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister at the time, to be sentenced to death for suggesting that parts of the occupied territories become a Palestinian state, the Ethics Committee suspended him for just one day. The complainant affirms that this was clear incitement to violence in a country where a former Prime Minister, Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered by an extremist, citing exactly this kind of justification for his actions,

Considering also that the Attorney-General announced on 25 July 2014 that he had instructed police to begin a formal investigation of Ms. Zoabi on suspicion of inciting others to violence and insulting a public servant, namely a police officer, outside Nazareth’s district court on 6 July 2014. According to the complainant, Ms. Zoabi’s lawyers have not yet been provided with documents relevant to the investigation, although Ms. Zoabi addressed the allegations at a police interrogation in Lod on 11 August 2014,

Considering furthermore that the complainant affirms that during this period the police have not been acting as a neutral law enforcement body and have been actively abusing their powers and denying people the right to peaceful demonstration and that, according to the NGO Adalah, more than 600 people had been arrested over their alleged participation in demonstrations since the beginning of July 2014, all of them Palestinian citizens,

Considering that the complainant points out that Ms. Zoabi has personally experienced police violence on several recent occasions, most notably at an anti-war demonstration in Haifa on 18 July 2014. There, she was verbally and physically abused by police officers and handcuffed for half an hour. Ms. Zoabi has formally filed a complaint against the police for their behaviour at the demonstration. So far no investigation has been initiated,

Considering that, according to the complainant, Ms. Zoabi is the only public figure in Israel to be facing an investigation for incitement, even though there was an outpouring of anti-Arab racist statements during Israel’s 50-day Operation Protective Edge, including calls for violence and threats to Palestinians both in Gaza and in Israel from leading Jewish politicians, rabbis and academics; the complainant affirms that the investigation against Ms. Zoabi is being pushed through at great speed to take advantage of the war atmosphere so that there is a national consensus in favour of punishing her,

Recalling that, under the previous legislature, on 13 July 2010, the Knesset passed a resolution to revoke three of Ms. Zoabi’s parliamentary privileges for the duration of the legislative period owing to her participation in the Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla in May 2010, which matter was also examined through the procedure of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians,

Bearing in mind that Israel is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and thus bound to guarantee freedom of expression, which is also guaranteed under Israel’s Basic Law,

  1. Is deeply concerned that Ms. Zoabi has been suspended from taking part in all parliamentary activity except for voting for six months, hence impairing her ability to exercise the mandate entrusted to her by her electors and their effective representation in the Knesset; fears that she was suspended on account of having exercised her freedom of speech by expressing a political position, as the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians believed was the case when the Knesset punished her for her participation in the Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010; wishes to receive a copy of the full decision taken by the Knesset Ethics Committee; 

  2. Sincerely hopes that the High Court of Justice will swiftly decide on the petition challenging the suspension and adopt a decision that fully recognizes the right to freedom of expression, respect for which is essential for members of parliament; wishes to be kept informed of developments in the proceedings; 

  3. Wishes to receive official information with regard to the criminal investigation against Ms. Zoabi, including with regard to the precise facts in support of the accusations against her;

  4. Wishes also to receive official information regarding steps taken to investigate the alleged verbal and physical abuse by police which Ms. Zoabi suffered during a demonstration on 18 July 2014; also wishes to know whether an analysis has been made, including by the Knesset in carrying out its oversight functions, of the polices handling of the demonstration;

  5. Requests the Secretary General to convey this decision to the relevant authorities, the complainant and any third party likely to be in a position to supply relevant information;

  6. Requests the Committee to continue examining this case and to report back to it in due course.

Note: you can download a complete electronic version of the brochure "Results of the 131th Assembly and related meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union" in PDF format (file size 1026 Kb). This version requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download free of charge.Get Acrobat Reader