Crackdown against leading Palestinian-Israeli party condemned as 'political persecution'
The Palestinian-Israeli Balad party has condemned the arrests of 20 officials on fraud charges as "political persecution" against the Palestinian minority and its political movements.
Speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, key figures in the party slammed the arrests, calling them "arbitrary" and a "dangerous escalation".
Earlier on Sunday, police detained the Balad party officials and activists on suspicion of "fraud" in connection with funds received that were used to finance the party's activities. Party officials say it is a political crackdown.
"This demonstrates a clear intimidation campaign that has included previous attempts to prosecute Balad members of the Knesset," Balad Secretary General Metanis Shahadeh said.
"All the Arab parties in Israel agree this is part of a political persecution campaign by Israeli authorities aimed to clamp down on the political activity of Arab Israelis."
Shahadeh rejected as false allegations that senior party officials had illegally transferred millions of shekels into the party's accounts.
"Balad works within the law, especially in regards to our financial matters," he said.
Balad MK Jamal Zahalka slammed the arrests as a "political move" to silence Israel's Palestinian minority, which accounts for 17.5 percent of the country's eight million population and is largely supportive of the Palestinian cause.
"These are baseless accusations, we have nothing to hide. This is a political move unrelated to the law,"
"This comes amid a wave of rampant racism against Palestinians in Israel following Netanyahu's statement that 'Arab voters are going in droves to the polls'."
|Balad is especially critical of Israeli policies and one of its members of parliament, Haneen Zoabi, has frequently angered Israeli officials.|
The New Arab's Palestine correspondent said that police detained for questioning senior Balad officials, including former secretary general Awad Abdel Fatah.
Other arrested party members were named as Mukhlis Burghal, Hosni Sultani, Jamal Daqqa, Murad Haddad, Lulu Taha, Izz al-Din Badran and Sumoud al-Dhiab.
Balad is especially critical of Israeli policies and one of its members of parliament, Haneen Zoabi, has frequently angered Israeli officials.
Balad was founded by Dr. Azmi Bishara and a number of Palestinian Israeli political leaders in 1995. Balad has been the target of repeated israeli attempts to ban it under various claims, including supporting "terrorism" and incitement against Israel.
For his part, Dr. Bishara has been subjected to prosecution and trial by the Israeli government since the party supported the Lebanese people during the Israeli war on Lebanon and Palestinian resistance during the intifada.
Balad, an acronym for National Democratic Assembly, is part of the Joint List, a coalition of Palestinian-Israeli parties in parliament.
The Joint List holds 13 of the 120 seats in parliament, of which three are held by Balad, and is the third largest bloc in the legislature.
Balad's three MKs triggered outrage among Jewish Israelis earlier this year when they met relatives of Palestinians who authorities say were killed while carrying out attacks.
In response, parliament passed a controversial law in July allowing the expulsion of MPs deemed guilty of racial incitement or supporting armed struggle against Israel.
Analysts have said the law will be extremely difficult to put into practice as any expulsion would require the support of 90 of the 120 MPs.