One of the few Arab members of the Israeli Knesset (MK), Haneen Zoabi is a member of the Balad Party, and now the Joint List since Balad joined the political alliance of Arab parties in 2015. She is a staunch advocate of Palestinian rights and was even on board the Mavi Marmara Flotilla in 2010 and tried to reason with Israeli commandos in order to stop their brutal attack on the activists aboard, although they largely ignored her requests.
Following the incident Zoabi not only faced discrimination, but severe persecution within the Knesset as well as Israeli society more broadly. Although she was a lawful member of the Knesset at the time (as she is today as well), she was stripped of her parliamentary rights and privileges including her diplomatic passport and her right to vote on bills presented before the Knesset for at least one year.
She has faced severe harassment within the confines of the Knesset meetings, including being physically charged and nearly assaulted by an MK from a rival party and being barraged with a litany of profanities and insults from a majority of MKs across a range of parties, even those claiming to be liberal (like Kadima). Even as recently January 2016, Zoabi was found guilty of insulting a policeman as part of a plea agreement after she had been “protesting the fact that the police were persecuting demonstrators and political activists.” She noted after the conviction, that normally no one would prosecuted for such a minimal violation, nor would they receive a suspended sentence as the prosecution pushed for in her case.
Zoabi has never been one to back down, considering it her duty as an MK to frequently speak out against Israel’s discriminatory legislation as well as the right-wing extremism of some of Israel’s conservative parties. She continues to do so despite the ongoing discrimination and derogation she faces, including being verbally attacked by other MKs, receiving death threats, and once even being physically attacked.
She considers the concept of a two-state solution unrealistic and instead has been advocating for one state “with full equality for both national groups,” noting that currently in Israel, Palestinians “have equal civil rights,” in theory, although in practice the reality “is very far from this.” In order to achieve this, Zoabi believes that popular struggle must be utilized to supplement democratic tools, which she notes many Palestinians in Israel have lost faith in. And her declaration is not unfounded, “according to the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Centre, [Palestinians] face more than 50 discriminatory laws that limit their access to state resources and muzzle their political expression” in Israel.
Refusing to remain silent, continuously challenging the state and its mechanisms of oppression, Zoabi is considered a “bad Arab” by many other Israeli MKs and as a result is frequently made the target of political attacks and divisive rhetoric. In part, this political persecution also stems from the fact that she is a woman, as many other politicians had hoped she would focus on gender issues within the Palestinian community, refraining from casting any criticisms on Israel. Unfortunately for them, Zoabi, a proud champion of women’s rights, has always understood “the feminist struggle [of Palestinian women] as” an inherent “part of [the] national struggle” for liberation.
Speaking on the current united Palestinian electoral list, the Joint List, in an interview with Al Jazeera, Zoabi noted that while points of difference persist between the parties, “the more right-wing the state becomes, the less relevant [their] own ideological differences become.” As the situation in Israel worsens with “Israel…confiscating land and demolishing homes; Palestinians…enduring violence and poverty; and Arab [MKs] and political activists…being persecuted,” it becomes increasingly necessary for the Palestinian parties to unify within the Knesset. Unification not only provides more negotiating power, but also creates a space for these parties to discuss and reconcile their ideological differences in a manner they hadn’t been able to achieve previously.
Although she may appear unobtrusive to some upon first glance, Haneen Zoabi is truly a freedom fighter to her core.