Balad Member of Knesset Basel Ghattas signed a plea bargain agreement with the Justice Ministry in which he finally confessed to smuggling mobile telephones into prison last year.
The deal agreed stated that Ghattas will resign his Knesset seat and serve two years in prison, the Justice Ministry announced. In addition, the state prosecution will seek a fine and a charge of moral turpitude – which would block Ghattas from public service for seven years from when he would be released from jail.
Balad is the mostly secular but extremely hard-line Arab political party which joined forces with three other Arab factions to form the Joint List, becoming the third largest political party in the Knesset with 13 seats.
Ghattas, who regularly visits Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, was caught on camera bringing in mobile phones and sims, even though he emphatically denied the charge for several months, saying it was Israeli racism that targets Arab Members of Parliament.
However he finally admitted he was guilty when his fellow MKs said they could no longer support him, as the evidence was overwhelming and was shown on Israel News Networks.
The case had ratcheted up tension between the Balad party and authorities over whether Ghattas perpetrated a serious security offense or was being hunted by law enforcements as part of a crackdown on loud politicians among the country’s Israeli-Arab minority. According to the indictment, Daka Assad, who was Ghattas’ handler, initially called the MK by telephone to request his help with smuggling certain items into the Ketziot prison in light of his parliamentary immunity from being searched when entering the prison.
On 18 December of last year, Assad met with Ghattas to give him the items at the Dor Alon gas station on the north side of Route 6.
His instructions were to smuggle the items to Assad’s brother, security prisoner Basil Bizra, even though he knew that the purpose of smuggling the equipment was to endanger people’s lives and national security. Bizra is serving a 15-year sentence for terror-related activities. Assad also gave Ghattas various documents to smuggle into the prison. Both Assad and Bizra were caught by police in a standard search of their persons after meeting with Ghattas, which then led to allegations against Ghattas. Video footage then emerged of the MK handing over items to the prisoners.
Police arrested Assad, who owns a cafe in Baka-al-Gharbiya, in late December.
In response to the plea bargain, MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) said that this amount of prison time for such acts is a disgrace and added, “This light punishment harms the deterrence effect and will encourage shameful acts like these in future.” Ilatov told journalists that “Ghattas will be released from prison after only two years and will be received as a hero and a freedom fighter by those who want to see the demise of the State of Israel. This is not the message we want to deliver to traitors and spies that are acting to destroy us.”
However Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union party said that the deal saved the Knesset from “the shameful act of impeachment.”
In a statement, Hasson said, “It was proved today that there is no room for impeachment in the Israeli democracy. I am happy that this is how things turned out, and not like the right wing MK’s obsessive insistence to impeach Ghattas.”
The Knesset House Committee started Ghattas’s impeachment process last week after Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud gathered 71 lawmakers to support the move, as required by law. But the Justice Ministry still went ahead with the deal.
Ghattas will be indicted shortly, and his Knesset seat has already been taken up by the next person on the Balad list, father of nine children, Juma Asbarga.