BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Ethics Committee of the Israeli Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted on Monday to bar Palestinian Knesset Member Basal Ghattas from parliamentary activity for six months, according to Israeli news website Ynet.
Ynet added that “this is the most severe punishment the committee is authorized to hand out.”
Ghattas, a member of Joint List which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset, is being charged with “conspiring to commit a crime, fraud, breach of trust, and violations of Israel Prisons Service orders."
Following Monday’s decision, Ynet reported that Ghattas called the Knesset committee’s decision "vindictive," highlighting that such a decision had not been made against other knesset members who were still under investigation prior to the filing of a formal indictment.
"The political system and the law enforcement system don't stop setting in records in their treatment of Arab MKs," he added, saying he will consider petitioning to the Israeli High Court of Justice to cancel the decision.
Ynet added that the committee had also discussed revoking Ghattas's salary, a move supported by most committee members. However, MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List opposed the move, which requires a unanimous vote to pass.
"The committee believes the acts Ghattas is being investigated for—of smuggling cellphones and other material to security prisoners—constitute a breach of the ethical code," Ynet quoted the committee as saying.
According Ynet, a statement released on behalf of Ghattas at the time of his arrest stated that “"This is a vengeful and arbitrary arrest, because the police, (Prime Minister) Netanyahu and (Public Security) Minister Erdan want a photo of an Arab MK in handcuffs.”
“The arrest is a political move and is not necessary to the investigation. Fairness obligates to treat an Arab public representative just like a Jewish one, and that is not the situation here,” the statement added.
Ghattas was stripped of his parliamentary immunity last month, with the Israeli Attorney General stating that Ghattas had “passed envelopes to security prisoners,” leading Israeli prison authorities to confiscate the envelopes which allegedly contained “12 cell phones, 16 SIM cards, two cell phone batteries, and headphones,” according to Ynet.
Meanwhile, there are 7,000 Palestinians currently being held as political prisoners in Israeli custody, according to prisoners' rights group Addameer. Any correspondence with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel can be considered an act against the security of the state of Israel, making it dangerous for both Palestinian citizens of Israel and those holding Jerusalem permits to engage with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Critics have said the arrest represents the latest event in a concerted crackdown on Joint List MKs in an attempt to squelch opposition to the Israeli government’s right-wing policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, commonly resting on allegations of “incitement” or supporting “terrorism” in the face of left-wing opposition.