TEL AVIV – More than 20 senior officials from the Arab-Israeli party Balad were arrested Sunday on suspicion of illegally transferring millions of shekels in donations to the party’s coffers.
Balad responded to the arrests by saying they were “fabricated,” “baseless” and part of a systematic campaign to persecute Israel’s Arab minority in general and the party specifically.
Those arrested include lawyers, accountants, and members of Balad’s political bureau and central committee, including former secretary-general Awad Abd al-Fatah.
The investigation into Balad, which holds three Knesset seats and is one of the four parties comprising the Joint (Arab) List faction, was launched with the authorization of the attorney general “according to the recommendation of the state prosecutor and following the findings of the state comptroller’s report” that found the party had a method of “systematically misrepresenting” the origin of millions of shekels in donations, the police said.
According to police, the charges include “falsifying corporate documents, forgery, use of forged documents, money laundering, and violating the party financing law.”
Balad denied the charges in a statement, saying the Sunday raid “was carried out under a general climate of fascism and racism against the Arab public as a whole. All of the attempts at political persecution of Balad have failed, and here too it will become clear that a mountain was made out of a molehill.”
“The latest arrests are a brazen and dangerous escalation, but will not deter us from continuing our work,” the statement said, adding that the “despotic” arrests were an “authoritarian” attempt to undercut the party’s “national and democratic role.”
Since its inception the party has been embroiled in controversies.
Its founder, MK Azmi Bishara, fled Israel in 2007 following accusations that he had provided the terror group Hezbollah with classified information during the 2006 Lebanon War.
In February, three of the party’s Knesset members – Jamal Zahalke, Haneen Zoabi, and Basel Ghattas – were widely condemned and subsequently suspended from the Knesset for paying condolence calls to the families of Palestinian terrorists killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.
Ghattas also stirred controversy when he responded to former president Shimon Peres’ stroke by calling him a “ruthless, colonial settler” and “blood-covered war criminal.”