Palestinian Knesset member on South African speaking tour

Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of the Israeli Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, called Israel's reference to itself as a Jewish state 'inherently racist' and contested Israel's claims to being a democracy during her recent visit to South Africa hosted by the Afro-MiddleEastCentre(AMEC).

Zoabi was in South Africa from 13 to 22April2012 to address a series of public seminars and participate in meetings with representatives of government, parliament and the African National Congress. She met both international relations deputy ministers, party chief whips in parliament and members of the international relations portfolio committee. She also met key personalities in labour unions, civil society organisations and Palestinian solidarity groups. Zoabi also gave numerous media interviews during her visit.

The trip created the opportunity for her to foreground an often overlooked voice in the Palestinian struggle: the experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Zoabi challenged the idea that Israel, through it streatment of its Palestinian citizens(or,a sitterms them, 'Arab Israelis'),constitutes a democracy. She exposed there ality of the structural,institutional and legislativeracism experienced by Palestinian citizens of Israel. (Israel has around forty laws that discriminate against its Palestinian citizens and is currently implementing the forced removal of Bedouin communities, who also hold Israeli citizenship, from their lands in the Negev. )

Zoabi also focused on the targeting of dissenting voices and Palestinian politicians in Israel – an experience she could speak very personally to. In 2010, she participated in the 'Freedom Flotilla' on board the MVMavi Marmara which was attacked by Israeli Defense Force commandos and,in November 2011,she participated in the Russell Tribunalon Palestine in CapeTown. She was stripped of her parliamentary privileges for taking part in the flotilla and after her testimony at the tribunal – where she, ironically, accused Israel of targeting Palestinian parliamentarians and dissenting voices – some fellow Knesset members attempted to have her stripped of her citizenship (a threat also made to Zoabi after the Marmara incident).

Zoabi is one of three Palestinian Members of Knesset(MK) representing the Balad party (out of a total of ten Palestinian MKs represented in the 120-seat Knesset). Balad draws most of its votes from Palestinian citizens but has the support of a small, but loyal, Jewish vote. Balad challenges the Zionistideology and founding tenet of Israel – that Israel should be a Jewish State. Instead, the party calls for a state for all its citizens. This has brought it into conflict with the state and has seen the drafting of aproposed law by MKDanny Danon(Likud) in December 2011 that looks to dismissordisqualify any MK or party that fails to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Shortly after her return from South Africa, Binyamin Netanyahu called for early elections to beheld this September. Danon subsequently announces that he was looking to petition the Central Elections Committee to bar Zoabi from the nineteenth Knesset. Netanyahu's expansion of his ruling coalition and withdrawal of the proposal for early elections gave a temporary reprieve to Zoabi and Balad.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 13:31

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