For the Sake of Coexistence

Israeli Arab Knesset members have an important role to play in Israel’s very vibrant democracy: to represent the country’s 1.7 million Arab citizens, or slightly more than 20 percent of the population. They’re supposed to fight for their needs, wrangling additional budgets out of the government to improve education and health care and housing and job opportunities.

But some of these MKs have gotten lost along the way, and decided that they are, first and foremost, the representatives of the Palestinian people. They identify as Palestinians and see no contradiction between serving in the Israeli Knesset — where they earn very handsome salaries — and acting in ways that undermine the state of Israel.

And so we’ve had Arab MKs travel to countries like Syria to meet with enemy leaders, and board the Mavi Marmara and participate in meetings of terrorists planning to brutally attack Israeli soldiers trying to stop it from breaking a legal blockade of Gaza. MK Azmi Bishara is alleged to have given Hezbollah information on strategic locations in Israel that it could target with rocket fire during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The reason the charge is only alleged is because Bishara ran away before he could be tried.

Unfortunately, the government has treated these MKs with kid gloves, granting them immunity from prosecution and the right to incite to violence under the rubric of freedom of expression.

Until now.

Last Sunday, MK Basel Ghattas visited the Ketziot prison south of Be’er Sheva and smuggled 12 cellphones and 16 SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners. These prisoners include Walid Daka, a terrorist who is serving 37 years for the brutal murder of IDF soldier Moshe Taman in 1984.

Ghattas denied the charges, until he was shown a video of himself handing them an envelope with the contraband. Then he claimed he didn’t know what was in the envelopes.

Ghattas is no stranger to scandal. A few months ago he held a moment of silence in memory of murderers in the most recent “lone wolf” terror rampage. He has joined flotillas that identify with Gaza. And when President Shimon Peres passed away, he called him one of the greatest war criminals.

But last Sunday he was more than just obscenely provocative. He was providing a means by which terrorists behind bars can communicate with terrorists on the outside, instructing them in how to execute attacks against Jews.

These actions constitute a serious offense against the security of the state and citizens of Israel.

For the first time, a Knesset panel voted (unanimously) to remove an MK’s immunity. The full Knesset would have likely seconded the motion had Ghattas not agreed to voluntarily give up his immunity, paving the way for police to question him and search his office at the Knesset.

Ghattas has not yet been charged, much less convicted, but the mere fact that he was forced to surrender his immunity and is being held accountable for his actions is a healthy precedent.

For much too long, Arab MKs have been allowed to push their freedoms to the limit, openly sympathizing with terrorists, calling on countries to boycott Israel and siding with the enemy at times of war.

Such actions run counter to the interests of both Israel’s Arabs and Jews, the majority of whom want to live together in peace. As Nazareth Mayor Al Salam, a moderate, screamed at an Arab MK who came to demonstrate in his city: “You need to go elsewhere, you’ve destroyed my city!”

He said that 80 percent of Arab MKs are not properly representing the people who elected them.

The bottom line is that limits must be imposed in Israel’s democracy for the sake of coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Arab MKs should never have been allowed to visit security prisoners in the first place. And they can’t be allowed to toss a match into the flammable Middle East with their poisonous messages of incitement.

The same holds true when it comes to incitement from Jewish extremists. Just recently, when a Jew posted a digitally created image of a pig drinking from a puddle on the Temple Mount, with the Dome of the Rock reflected on the surface of the water, he was arrested for insulting religion and ordered by police to remove the post. Extremists from both sides have to be kept in check.

Israel is a model of coexistence between Jews and Arabs. With all the wars and terror attacks and tensions, the vast majority live together in harmony.

Every effort must be made to keep it that way.