Report: Arab-Israeli lawmaker allegedly smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners


JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli lawmaker is being investigated for allegedly smuggling 15 cell phones to two Palestinian inmates in an Israeli prison.

Basel Ghattas of Balad, one of the parties that make up the Arab Joint List, will be summoned for questioning by the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police, Israel’s Channel 2 first reported Sunday afternoon.

Officials are concerned that Ghattas could flee the country, according to Channel 2. Ghattas’ cousin, former lawmaker Azmi Bishara, founder of the Balad Party, fled Israel in 2007 during an investigation over accusations that he passed information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

Ghattas visited prisoners in Ketziot Prison Sunday. According to Israeli media reports, investigators asked to speak with Ghattas following the visit but he reportedly refused citing his immunity as a lawmaker. The suspicions are not related specifically to Sunday’s visit, Haaretz reported citing Ghattas’ office.

“Visits to prisoners by Arab Knesset members are conducted in coordination with the Prisons Service and with the approval of the Public Security Ministry. I have nothing to hide, I will continue to represent the Arab public through legitimate political activity,” Ghattas told Haaretz.

“If these suspicions against Knesset member Ghattas are true, then this constitutes a serious offense against the security of the state and citizens of Israel. Whoever harms state security will be severely punished and will not be allowed to serve in the Knesset,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a post on Facebook that the suspicions against Ghattas are “more proof that the Joint List is really a joint list of spies and traitors.” Liberman also said: “I will continue to act so that not only will they not serve in the Knesset, but also won’t be citizens of Israel.”

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