Said Nafa and the Knesset Ethics Committee
By Jusin Schuster
In late March 2012, the Israeli Knesset Ethics Committee rejected the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel’s complaint against Said Nafa. Nafa, an Israeli MK, had participated in a rally in support of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. While the Legal Forum argued that the rally in Haifa violated laws against public support for terrorism, committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin countered, “Participation in a political conference, even if its messages are not pleasant to the ear, to say the least, falls under the freedom of political action and expression of MKs.”
There is something particularly troubling with the Ethics Committee’s ruling and even more so regarding Nafa’s actions. The rally not only demonstrated support for a regime with troubled relations with Israel, but also for a ruthless dictator who has already killed more 9,000 Syrian protestors. While Syria burns, Nafa parades with a picture of Assad.
The “Rules of Ethics for Members of the Knesset” states that the Knesset member “is a trustee of the public, and his duty is to represent the public that voted for him in a manner that will serve human dignity, the advancement of the society and the good of the State.” Nafa’s actions are a violation of human dignity as expressed in the aforementioned rule; when an MK defends the slaughter of innocent civilians, he surrenders his right to free speech. Furthermore, Nafa’s actions are antithetical to the interest of the democratic Jewish state, and given that Nafa is a member of the Arab party Balad, they exacerbate already tenuous Jewish and Arab-Israeli relations. They also threaten to isolate the silent majority of Arab-Israelis.
This is not the first time that an Arab MK has exhibited egregious behavior. Firebrand Hanin Zoabi of the Balad Party participated in the Gaza Flotilla on May 31, 2010, which violated Israeli sovereignty and resulted in nine deaths. In response to Israeli intervention, Zoabi called her government’s actions a “pirate military operation.”
Deputy speaker of the Knesset and leader of Ta’al, Ahmad Tibi, praised the “martyrs” of the Palestinian Authority on “Palestinian Martyr’s Day,” adding that “there is nothing more praiseworthy than those who die for the homeland.” Finally, Afu Aghbaria of the Hadash Party spoke in front of the European Parliament and accused Israel, his own country, “of deliberately harassing the residents of the Gaza Strip and called for Israeli leaders to be tried at the International Criminal Court.”
Benji Preminger, a Yale student and former IDF military journalist, attempts to convey the magnitude of some of these actions: “This is anti-Israel to an extreme. Imagine a US Senator going to meet Al-Qaeda on his own volition. Imagine a Congressman fraternizing with the Taliban. That’s what you have here. I feel very close to Arabs, and I wish this weren’t the case, but they call Osama bin Laden a martyr. When you have a member of your government go to someone that you are at war with, it is a problem. There should be laws against it. I’m not against conversations with Hamas, but such actions that these Knesset members have done are massive questions of allegiance.”
Two years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed a controversial piece of legislation called the Loyalty Oath Law that required all non-Jews wishing to become an Israeli citizen to vow loyalty to “the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” However, the backlash against the bill suggested that it failed to properly address the issue of loyalty among MKs in Israel. Before mandating allegiance oaths, perhaps Israel should focus on upholding MKs’ common respect for human life. The “Rules of Ethics” states that members shall “uphold the dignity of the Knesset.” In refusing to sanction Nafa, it was the Ethics Committee that failed to preserve the Knesset’s dignity.
Justin Schuster is a freshman in Branford College.