Arab woman promotes anti-Israeli stance in Knesset

A young Arab woman is causing a stir in the Israeli Parliament by holding an openly anti-Israeli stance.

Haneen Zuabi is young, modern, and outspoken. She's also the first Arab woman voted into the Israeli parliament as a representative of the Arab nationalist party Balad. But in the two months since being elected, Zuabi has set tongues wagging. Her critics accuse her of treason, claiming she is using Israeli freedom of speech to promote an anti-Israel platform.

“I think this indicates how much Israel is strong and sophisticated, and not how much Israel is democratic. I would give up this freedom of expression, but let Israel give me back my lands, and give me back my rights, and let me live in peace in my homeland,” Zuabi says.

Haneen has infuriated Israelis by saying she has no problem with Iran – a country whose president not so long ago vowed to wipe Israel off the map.

“I support every resistance organization, every organization, and human being, and society that resists any occupation. Of course I support her (Iran),” she explains.

It's statements like these that have led many to accuse Haneen of supporting Israel's enemies. And she's not the first from her party to have done so. Azmi Bishara, also a former Israeli -Arab parliamentarian, is accused of giving Hezbollah crucial information on where to aim its rockets during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Dr. Rivka Shpak Lissak is a retired historian who spends many hours online debating Haneen's arguments.

“I don't want to deny them the right to sit in the Knesset, but I would expect them to be more sensitive to my feelings, as I am trying to be to their feelings. Sometimes, it is very difficult for me to hear what they say, because I feel they want to eliminate the Jewish state,” says Dr. Lissak.

The debate has filtered through to lecture halls throughout the country. And particularly this week, as the non-racism conference takes place in Geneva, Israelis are asking themselves about the boundaries of freedom of expression.

Just as Haneen was elected to parliament, so too was an Israeli nationalist on the opposite end of the spectrum. His views are becoming more popular.

“This was actually one of the big campaign slogans for the Yisrael Beiteinu party headed by the former Russian immigrant Avigdor Lieberman. One of the reasons he was so successful in elections is that he came up and said, 'without loyalty to the state of Israel you shouldn’t have citizenship.' And he meant that for members of the Knesset and for all citizens,” says political analyst Mitchell Barak.

The debate in the lecture halls won't be resolved anytime soon. But just as unlikely is the prospect that Arab members of Israel's parliament – who represent one-fifth of the country's population – will calm down.