Yesterday’s decision to disqualify the controversial Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from running in Israel’s upcoming elections is sure to be condemned by Israel’s liberal critics at home and abroad – particularly if the disqualification is upheld by the High Court of Justice.
However, it seems that Zoabi has some critics even within her own extended family: as Israeli media reported some two months ago, the petition to disqualify her was signed by a cousin of Zoabi who argued that instead of working for the interests of Israeli Arabs, she “represents the Palestinians in Ramallah – so she should move there.”
No doubt many Israelis will share this sentiment – but ironically, Zoabi’s hostility to Israel has been so extreme that it sometimes had a completely unintended hasbara effect. In July 2011, I wrote a post on this for my JPost blog, which I republish below.
The good old times: Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (center, of course!) flanked by Israeli MKs Zoabi and Tibi in 2010
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There is no question that Haneen Zoabi would be horrified at the idea that she is in any way engaging in “hasbara” for Israel – after all, she is a member of Knesset representing the Balad party which is fiercely opposed to Israel’s status as a Jewish state. Zoabi herself regards the Knesset as “a citadel of inequality” and some of her fellow Knesset members, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Lieberman, are in her view just “a bunch of fascists.”
But Zoabi’s openly hostile views of the state where she serves as a member of parliament sometimes seem to have a curious “hasbara” effect. Consider the reader comments in response to a recent article published by the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site where Zoabi furiously objected to a British decision to ban the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, from entering Britain.
Zoabi claims in her article that the “British authorities have fallen into an Israeli trap.” She argues:
“Instead of supporting our leaders and their campaign for freedom and democracy, they [i.e. the British authorities] are supporting Israeli persecution of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Until now, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been struggling for our political rights in our country, and confronting Zionist racism inside Israel. But now it seems we have to confront Zionist racism abroad as well.”
“The pro-Israeli lobby must not be allowed to determine politics in Britain. Palestinians in Israel see the arrest of Salah by the British authorities as backing Israeli policies against us. We ask the British people to reject this, not to allow Israeli racism to inform them and support instead our just demands for democracy in our own land.”
One of the first comments (ZackSame, 30 June 2011 8:27AM) garnered 484 endorsements from other readers; it stated dryly:
“Britain has every right to ban any hatemongering crackpot from entering the country, whether they be Koran burners or in this instance conspiracy spouting, homophobic, Bin Laden fans, it might not square with the opinions of foreign politicians like the author but that’s the way it is.”
Another comment (Keo2008, 30 June 2011 8:39AM) that got 450 endorsements argued:
“This article and this man [i.e. Salah] sum up exactly why it is so hard to make peace in Israel. Israeli policies towards the Palestinians are indeed appalling and should be condemned. But to try to turn this racist, antisemitic, pro-Hamas and pro-Al Qaeda man into some kind of martyr to the cause is disgraceful.
So long as Palestinians follow racist extremists like this man, the more the Israelis will turn to their extremists for protection. Raed Salah does the Palestinian cause no favours. Haneen’s support for this racist does the Palestinian cause no favours. Britain was absolutely right to get rid of him.”
It is noteworthy that in the few lines I quoted from Zoabi’s article, she refers twice to “Zionist racism” and once to “Israeli racism;” at the same time, she seems to imply that Sheikh Raed Salah should be considered as one of the Palestinian leaders of a “campaign for freedom and democracy” – which happens to be a view that is apparently shared by Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, who recently honored Salah as “a great Palestinian leader.”
Indeed, according to some Israeli experts on terrorism and Islamist extremism, Salah’s Islamic Movement “is a faction of the regional Muslim Brotherhood organization.”
It is also telling that while Zoabi herself is sophisticated enough to decry the supposed influence of the “pro-Israeli lobby” in her article, Salah’s Islamic Movement openly railed against the “Jewish lobby.”
Zoabi’s problem is that on the one hand, she presents herself as an apparently secular leftist who fights for “freedom and democracy” as a member of a supposedly “democratic progressive” party, but on the other hand, she eagerly embraces an Islamist like Salah, who has espoused the most reactionary views and resorted to sectarian incitement.
It is no small irony that Zoabi once asserted that “Racism is a contagious disease.” Arguably, she proves her point. After all, once upon a time, leftist convictions prominently included the notion that ethnic bonds should count for less than common political ideals. But Zoabi is willing to defend a fellow Palestinian even when he is an Islamist like Salah who stands for a political vision that should be very hard to reconcile with her own.
To be sure, Zoabi herself acknowledges in her article that Salah and she “represent different political organisations and traditions,” but given her writings and her actions – both she and Salah participated in last year’s “Gaza Flotilla” and were on the Mavi Marmara – it seems fair to conclude that Zoabi belongs to this part of the “left” that doesn’t hesitate to ally itself with even the most reactionary forces as long as there is one shared goal: undermining Israel’s legitimacy and its existence as a Jewish state.
Revealingly, Zoabi has made clear in another article earlier this year just how important ethnic identification is for her. Reacting to “revelations” about supposed Palestinian concessions in the negotiations with Israel, Zoabi insisted that “Palestinian negotiators must not take key decisions on our behalf,” and she claimed:
“We, as Palestinian people living inside Israel and on the basis of our historic right and international law, have full right of veto – not only on matters that affect our lives, such as the return of the refugees, the Jewish identity of the state and population exchange, but also on all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Can you imagine what Haneen Zoabi would say if Jewish minorities around the world would claim a comparable “full right of veto” regarding “all matters affecting and infringing the rights of the Jewish people”?
One reader’s response (peitha, 31 January 2011 10:34AM), endorsed by 122 others, pointed out quite rightly:
“It is telling though that a menmber [sic] of the Knesset is so hostile to the state in which she serves as a legislator she regards outside negotiators as the voice of the people she is supposed to represent.”
Zoabi’s recent article elicited a similar comment (randstad, 30 June 2011 8:38AM) which was endorsed by 453 people:
“The irony is if Salah or the author [i.e. Zoabi] had taken these types position [sic] in any Arab countries against that country, they would [have] been at best in jail or more likely dead or hiding out in another country as recent events tell us. It is a mark of how ‘bad’ Israel is there [sic] free to preach what they do in the way they do.”
I would have thought it’s something like “mission impossible” to get hundreds of Guardian readers to endorse a pro-Israeli comment – and I should know, because I have occasionally contributed articles there and often taken part in the ensuing debates. But it seems that when it comes to explaining what Israel is up against, Haneen Zoabi unwittingly does a much better job than people who try. So perhaps Zoabi deserves a big “thank you” for a “hasbara” job well done.