Does Hanin Zoabi do anything other than ride the waves on boats that seek to illegally enter Israeli waters, march with those who would accuse our army of genocide, or rant against Israeli policies? We have seen her conduct herself in a way that suggests she has no interest in our state, to put it mildly. Many consider her a traitor and would like to see her not only prevented from gaining a seat in the next Knesset but also tried for treason. So just what is she doing taking a salary from a country she seems to despise?
I decided to look a bit deeper and explore what she has been doing over the past two years during her most recent term, as a member of the 19th Knesset and what I found surprised me. To do that I read the laws she initiated, law proposals that she joined as a co-signer and her activities in Knesset Lobbies and Committees. It is there for anyone to see on the official Knesset website, and on a website that helps you follow MK activities in more detail than you ever knew you wanted to know.
Just to be clear, a Knesset lobby is not what North Americans generally refer to as lobby groups. The latter consist of individuals or groups who promote the interests of particular sectors of the population; their task is to persuade legislators to pass or prevent the passing of laws in accordance with the needs or wishes or the sector they represent. A Knesset lobby (in Hebrew: shdula), on the other hand, is an unofficial group of Members of Knesset (MKs) who together want to promote certain ideas and policies affecting specific interest groups in the general population.
First, let us look at bills Zoabi has proposed over the past two years. These can be totally new laws, re-tabling of laws from previous terms that did not progress through all the readings, or amendments to existing laws. We can find her involved in bills that are initiated by MKs across the board from far left to far right, such as the proposal to name city streets after women and after individuals from all sectors of Israeli society, getting away from the custom of naming streets after Ashkenazi men. When we explore laws suggested either by Zoabi alone or together with the other two MKs from her party, the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), we see that what most interests her are balancing rights of Arabs with those of Jews, improving the status of women and helping the weaker members of society regardless of their ethnicity.
She (alone or with her party) has proposed bills that are quite interesting, for example:
Concerning Domestic and Interpersonal Violence
1. Review domestic violence police files each year to see if any merit additional follow-up, in order to reduce the number of women murdered by their partners.
2. Add a paragraph detailing the training required of forensic interviewers in domestic and sexual violence cases.
3. Shelters for women and girls suffering from domestic violence should be opened in each municipality plus shelters for special needs populations should be introduced.
4. Criminal charges should be filed when someone has been found to induce someone else to panhandle for them.
1. Cancel requirement for psychometric university exams.
2. Students who do not work should not have to pay National Insurance or arnona during the time of their studies.
3. University fees should be linked to the minimum wage.
Concerning the Status of Women and Minorities
1. A female candidate must be included in every 3 candidates for municipal and knesset elections.
2. Fair representation for Arabs, Ethiopians, women and the handicapped in public service jobs.
3. Require presence of a translator in National Insurance medical review sessions.
Concerning Economic Support for the Middle and Lower Classes
1. Introduce deductions for mortgage payments from income tax for home owners who do not own more than one residential property.
2. Introduce interest payments on positive bank balances.
3. Introduce negative income tax to support low-wage earners.
Concerning Balancing Rights of the Arab Sector with Those of the Jews
1. Add “mosques” to the list of public buildings that get reduced water tariffs.
2. Establish a body in charge of Arab education on an equal footing with the government education system.
3. Cancel laws giving special status to Jewish national agencies, such as: Keren Kayemet, Keren HaYesod, World Zionist Organization and more.
4. Cancel law that seeks to reduce funds given to organizations that commemorate HaNakba on Yom Haatzmaut.
5. Funds for artistic development in Nazareth and for Arabic theatre.
6. Cancel law allowing new Jewish single family farms in Negev and not granting licenses to Arab settlements
1. Laws determining minimal size of a prison cell and other conditions of imprisonment.
2. New law stipulating standards for playground equipment safety.
3. Municipal auditors are not residents of the towns in which they are employed.
4. Arnona collected from all municipalities will be redistributed among them so that towns in the periphery will have access to more funds.
5. Introduce lockers into schools so that children do not have to carry their books to and from school each day.
Of all 77 laws in which Zoabi was involved in the 19th Knesset, only one can be said to express anti-Zionist sentiment, a bill to cancel the Anti-Boycott Law that forbids anyone from supporting boycotts of Israeli professionals and products. There have been various unsuccessful attempts by Meretz and Balad to get this law repealed. Other than that, to look at the list of bills she has initiated or helped promote, we see someone who is very involved in this country and the welfare of its citizens. Suddenly I felt that there is a Hanin Zoabi not too many people are aware of.
A member in both the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, she in fact frequently attends sessions of the Committees on the Status of Women, The Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the Committee on Education, Culture and Sports. This activity is rounded out by her membership in two lobbies: the Lobby for Female Knesset Members and for the Strengthening and Promotion of the Arab Economy. Were she to be active in the Knesset alone, she could have become better known for her work toward bettering the lives, not only of Arab citizens of Israel, but of all citizens of the country. In fact, that is her stated purpose for entering politics in the first place.
However, it is for her extra-parliamentary activities and her statements calling Israel a terrorist state, labelling some of her colleagues in the Knesset as fascists (Livni and Netanyahu, among others), bad-mouthing the IDF, and other activities that delegitimize Israel that she has earned the reputation as someone Israelis love to hate. I think she walks a fine line as shown by the fact that the elections committee rejected her upcoming candidacy and the Superior Court reversed that decision.
It is legitimate for her, a citizen of this country, to try to use the democratic tools available to implement the kinds of changes she would like to see. Just as those on the right of the political spectrum want to strengthen the Jewish nature of Israel, she wants to do just the opposite – she wants to see this nation transformed into a state for all its citizens and cease to be a Jewish one. If I understand her correctly, she would like to see shared sovereignty over Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, a kind of one-state confederacy of Jews and Arabs, rather than a two-state solution that appears farther away than ever. She is entitled to her opinion and her personal vision. While I do not agree with that vision, I support her right to it.
She shoots herself in the foot, in my opinion, when she apparently purposefully arouses venomous responses by the way she goes about expressing herself, preventing anyone other than her own voters from hearing what she has to say. She seems to have an allergic reaction to the possibility of being one of the “good Arabs”, supposedly meaning one of those who accept that this is a Jewish country, serve in the army and consider themselves proud Israelis. To her, apparently, this is a betrayal of her “Palestinian” history. What a bunch of crock! Her one-time close colleague, Osmi Bishara, himself, said on Israeli TV in 1996 that there is no such thing as a Palestinian nation and never was.I suggest she study history as it really happened. Regardless of history, there is NOW a Paletinian Arab identity and that has to be respected, but without calling out a history that never happened.
Zoabi is dealing with the identity conflict faced by many peoples around the world – with their loyalties pulled in two directions. Her solution to her internal conflict is to eliminate the Jewishnes of Israel and to promote a bi-national confederacy. I wonder if she could allow herself to work toward that goal without alienating the very ones she will have to be in confederacy with and, at the same time, without feeling like a collaborator with the enemy.
Furthermore, her openly expressed hostility to the state hides all her other parliamentary activities within an invisibility cloak and that is a shame. Even when she is interviewed for Israeli TV by a journalist who creates a comfortable and sympathetic space for her, she says nothing about the positive work she does in the Knesset. I wonder why Zoabi the provocateur has to hide Zoabi the serious civic-minded legislator.