October 10, 2016 - 10:44 AM
JERUSALEM - Israeli police are investigating two Arab lawmakers on suspicion of money laundering and fraud, in what their party said is part of a "political witch hunt."
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Monday that Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka are suspected in crimes of fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering of hundreds of thousands of dollars that were smuggled into Israel via Jordan. Samri said the money was used in election campaigns in 2013. She did not provide details on the source of the funding.
Balad is a Palestinian nationalist party whose members frequently clash with the Israeli government. In 2007, Balad lawmaker Azmi Bishara fled Israel while facing charges of espionage for the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group.
Samri said police have detained and questioned dozens of members and raided the party's offices as part of the current investigation.
The party said Monday that the probe was "a political investigation meant to harm the Balad party, as part of a political witch hunt against the Arab public and its representatives."
Arabs make up one fifth of Israel's population and have full citizenship, including serving in Israel's parliament, but they often suffer discrimination.
In Israel's 2015 elections, Balad and three other Arab factions united under one ticket after Israel's parliament approved a measure to raise the threshold for entry - threatening the smaller parties with being shut out.
On election day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu galvanized his hawkish supporters by warning that "Arab voters are going in droves to the polls." The comments drew accusations of racism, and Netanyahu later apologized.
The Joint Arab List netted 13 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament.
In February, Israel's parliament temporarily suspended Zoabi, Zahalka and fellow Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas after they met with the families of Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks on Israelis. The lawmakers said they met with the families to help them get the bodies of their relatives released by Israeli authorities.
During a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, Israel has withheld the bodies of some attackers in what the government says is meant to prevent their funerals from igniting violent clashes with security forces.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016