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Joint List denounces 'frantic campaign' against Balad party in fraud investigation

Sept. 19, 2016 6:45 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 26, 2016 9:48 P.M.)
Israeli Knesset (AFP)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Joint List political bloc -- representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel's parliament, the Knesset -- denounced on Monday an ongoing police investigation charging the Balad party with fraud, calling it a “frantic campaign” targeting Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and their political activity.

According to statement by Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri on Sunday, more than 20 people, including officials from the Balad party, have been arrested and questioned over suspicions of fraudulent transfers of money into the party’s treasury.

The months-long investigation into what Israeli police is calling Case 274 claims that Balad officials, lawyers, and accountants have misrepresented the origin of millions of shekels’ (tens of thousands of dollars) worth of funds by stating that they came from hundreds of local donors when they allegedly originated from different foreign and local sources.

As of Sunday afternoon, al-Samri said, Israeli police had seized a number of documents and impounded properties and bank accounts belonging to individuals suspected in the case.

Israeli courts extended on Sunday the remands of at least 10 people linked to Balad as part of Case 274.

In a statement shared with Ma’an on Monday, the Joint List, of which Balad is a member, said that Israeli authorities were using alleged violations committed during the 2013 Israeli legislative elections as a “pretext” to target the party.

"The arbitrary detention and storming campaign (Saturday night), which characterizes fascist regimes, was unjustifiable and indicates that there have been plots to target the party politically," the statement read, calling it a “frantic campaign against the Balad party.”

The Joint List further called the investigation a “part of a plot by the right-wing government" to "bring us back to the era when a good Arab was an Arab who adhered to government policies."

“Such a campaign is targeting all Arab citizens and their political parties and movements," the statement concluded.

Case 274 comes as the latest move against Palestinian political parties in Israel, as Palestinian members of Knesset have been repeatedly targeted by legislation seeking to undermine their presence in Israel’s parliament.

In July, the Knesset passed into law a bill that would allow MKs to vote to oust their colleagues from office, legislation that has been slammed by critics as targeting Palestinian MKs and harmful to “the very building blocks of democracy.”

The bill was first introduced after Palestinian MKs paid visits to the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces after they carried out attacks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying in March the law would be used to suspend MKs who "stand behind terror."

The legislation regained traction after Balad MK Haneen Zoabi enraged lawmakers by calling Israeli soldiers who participated in the 2010 deadly raid of the Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip “murderers,” as she was forcibly removed from the plenum for her comments.

In response to the incident, Coalition Chairman David Bitan of the Likud party, with the support of Netanyahu, unsuccessfully tried to shelve the suspension bill in exchange for a law designed simply to oust Zoabi.

The Knesset also passed the “NGO bill” into law in July, as human rights groups and opposition Knesset members condemned the legislation for seeking to “silence criticism” of Israel and delegitimize left-wing groups.

The actions against the Joint List, which was formed last year when four Palestinian parties joined to fight for the rights of Israel's Palestinian minority, and other left-wing organizations in Israel have laid bare a deep rift in Israeli society as the extreme right-wing has gained traction on the Israeli political and social scene.
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