Knesset defense panel chief suspends aide over meeting with extremist cleric

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak said on Thursday that he had suspended aide Linir Abu Hazaz after she took photos with former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, who has expressed support for suicide bombings.

Ben-Barak, a former deputy head of Mossad who serves as the head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is currently abroad. In a tweet, he said he would probe the matter thoroughly and make decisions about Abu Hazaz, who is a lawyer, when he returns.

“I will carry out an in-depth check with attorney Abu Hazaz and others regarding questions that have arisen regarding her conduct. I will reach my conclusions accordingly,” Ben-Barak wrote.

“As chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, I will always prefer national security before any other consideration,” he added.

According to her Facebook page, Abu Hazaz apparently took the photos as part of a course she was taking for Al Aqsa Mosque tour guides.

Sabri was removed from his post as Grand Mufti in 2006 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after a controversial career, including support for suicide bombers and Holocaust denial. He defended violence against Jews at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount site as “legitimate self-defense,” in an interview with The Times of Israel in 2015.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri. (AP/Joao Silva)

In May last year, he was arrested and barred temporarily from the Temple Mount for alleged incitement against Israeli forces there.

In his role as chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ben-Barak has advocated designating the extremist Jewish Lehava group as a terror organization over its incitement to racism and violence.

There was no immediate comment from Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who was flying back from a visit to the United States.

Religious Zionism party head MK Bezalel Smotrich, who himself has been accused of using racist and extremist rhetoric, called on Ben-Barak to fire Abu Hazaz.

“The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is the most sensitive committee in the Knesset. It is inconceivable that anyone who maintains close ties with terrorist elements would participate in its deliberations and be exposed to the sensitive information that comes up in them,” Smotrich wrote in a statement before Ben-Barak announced he was suspending the aide.

“The writing is on the wall. Ram Ben-Barak would do well to show her the door right away,” he said.