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A Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) is under threat of having her Israeli citizenship revoked after she testified against that country's “racist political and legal regime” before the Russel Tribunal on Palestine in Cape Town on Sunday.
Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian Arab who represents the Balad party, is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset on an Arab party’s list.
On Sunday, within hours of Zoabi having delivered her strongly-worded submission to the tribunal - which is investigating whether Israel can be deemed an apartheid state under international law - a member of the Knesset, Otniel Schneller (Kadima) filed a complaint against her to the Knesset Ethics Committee and called for her citizenship to be revoked.
Zoabi has made an impassioned plea to the South African government to support her, saying that South Africa has an “ethical and political obligation” to defend her against what she called “persecution”.
She wants the South African government to make a very clear statement that “to think of stripping a Knesset member of citizenship because of a political statement” is something that proves to the whole world that Israel is a racist state.
“Israel will not stop being racist unless it pays the price of its racism and unless it loses the support of the international world. Israel keeps being racist because it enjoys also the support of the international community,” she told the Daily News in an interview on Sunday.
In her evidence, Zoabi said that, unlike Israel, South Africa had admitted it was a racist regime - and this is what had brought about change in South Africa.
She said the Israeli government saw the more than one million Palestinians living in Israel as more of a strategic threat than those living in occupied Palestine territories and accused the Israeli government of committing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
Zoabi said her party had been disqualified from contesting elections three times because it was not loyal to Zionism.
In his complaint against Zoabi to the Knesset Ethics Committee, Schneller said the time had come to find a way to revoke Zoabi’s citizenship.
Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, he said: “Zoabi makes every effort to disconnect herself from the country, and the government should answer her wishes.
“Israeli Arabs must denounce this rotten apple that is identified with Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Anyone who supports this criminal is announcing that he wants to give up his Israeli citizenship and join Israel’s enemies,” Schneller said.
He said Zoabi did not request permission to leave the country, as required by Knesset regulations, and asked the ethics committee to “use its authority against this charging bull.”
Zoabi said Sunday’s events had “proved” what she had said during the tribunal: “ that anyone who talks about reality in Israel will be persecuted.
“Israel says that citizens of Israel enjoy full rights and they can all vote but I don’t just vote for the Knesset.
“I am a parliamentarian. I have an immunity to act politically. My immunity is supposed to protect me. To be active in politics is part of my duty, it is my responsibility. I was elected in order to promote my political vision - and my vision is one of democracy, of equality, and of justice and full national and civic equality for Jews and Palestinians in Israel,” she said.
“It seems this vision of democracy and equality is threatening Israel. It seems that my vision of equality is challenging the definition of Israel as a Jewish state because the only meaning of a Jewish state is to give privileges to the Jews and for Israel to be run by the Jews and to
preserve a majority for the Jews.
“When I speak of full equality this means we cannot agree to give privileges to the Jews at the expense of the Arabs. And the state is there for all its citizens.
“So what is really challenging Israel is the call for democracy, the call for, equality and the call for justice. The problem is not just Israel’s occupation - the problem is the integral political and legal system of Israel. It is part of the ideology of Israel to be racist. And this is
what we are challenging.”
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who was at the tribunal on Sunday, made a public promise to Zoabi that he would take up her case with President Jacob Zuma and the government.
Expressing the solidarity of Cosatu’s two million members, Vavi said he would urge Zuma to “act in co-ordination with all other governments who support freedom of speech - and to offer assistance.”
Palestinians were “going through hell at the hands of brutality in Israel and Palestine”, Vavi said.
“From what I have learnt in the past two days - what is happening there goes way beyond what we went through during apartheid.”
Vavi invited Zoabi to stay in South Africa.
“You will not be alone. If you want to stay stay, if you want to continue fighting, continue fighting...”
Zoabi told the Daily News: “We are struggling to stay in our homeland. It is the policy of Israel to seclude and deport us. I will not just give up. Israel must not give up. Racism must give up. We must stay in our homeland.”
Zoabi said she was being accused, on a range of Hebrew websites, of incitement in describing Israel as an apartheid state.
“But actually I am saying is Israel is worse than an apartheid state.”
Asked what message she had for her supporters back home, she said: “Keep struggling. This reaction of Israel is a sign that Israel is embarrassed, is in stress and is not succeeding in convincing the international community. This reaction reveals the real face of Israel.”