Supreme Court allows Palestinian MK Zoabi to participate in elections

The court unanimously decided to reverse the Central Election Committee’s decision forbidding MK Zoabi (Balad) from running.  In response, a Likud spokesperson vowed that the PM’s party would work to amend the law in order to ensure such disqualifications before the next elections. 

MK Haneen Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)
MK Haneen Zoabi (photo: Oren Ziv/ Activestills.org)

The Israeli Supreme Court decided this morning (Sunday) to reverse the Central Election Committee’s decision to prevent MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) from participating in the coming Knesset elections, due to take place on January 22. The decision was unanimous, with all nine judges – including Supreme Court Chief Justice Asher Gronis – ruling to allow Zoabi to run.

MK Zoabi, the only Palestinian woman in the Knesset, became a target for the Israeli right following her participation in the first flotilla to Gaza. Despite the fact that no charges were brought against her, Zoabi was stripped of some of her parliamentary privileges, and was even attacked in the Knesset by some right-wing members. Immediately after the elections were called, several Members of Knesset from the right announced they would try to ban Zoabi and her party, Balad, from running. The motion to prevent Balad from running failed at the elections committee, but the right won a victory in the effort to ban Zoabi herself, which was even supported by Kadima representatives on the committee.

However, just like in previous attempts to ban Arab MKs from participating in the elections, the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court. Zoabi and her supporters were attacked again by supporters of the right during the hearing of her case at the Supreme Court.

Following the ruling today MK Zoabi said:

The attempts to disqualify me were part of a political and personal persecution against me, my party and the entire Arab public. Along the way, I was convinced that I was right, and that there is no legal ground for the effort to ban me. But today’s decision cannot erase the threats, delegitimization, verbal and physical violence I experienced in the Knesset and outside it in the last three years.

The verdict also goes to show that the Central Elections Committee is a political body that abuses its authority and allows politicians to ban their rivals on ideological grounds. Balad and myself will not be deterred and we will not let anyone in the Knesset or outside it define for us and for the Arab public our legitimate positions and the limits of our political work.

The Likud-Beiteinu Party (the united ticket of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Avigdor Lieberman) issued the following statement:

We regret the Supreme Court decision to allow MK Zoabi to run in the next Knesset. In light of the Supreme Court’s interpretation [of the law], it’s obvious that the existing law must be changed to state unequivocally that any expression of support for terrorism proscribes one from running for the Knesset. Likud-Yisrael Beitenu will act immediately in the next Knesset to amend the existing law.

MK Zoabi was never charged or convicted for supporting terrorism, not did she make statements to that effect (The IHH, which organized the first flotilla, was not considered a terror organization by Israel at the time). The effort to ban her was doomed to fail, but it should be seen as part of the ongoing attempt to isolate Palestinian representatives in the Knesset and to call into question the status of Palestinians as equal citizens. As the Likud’s comments show, these attempts are only likely to intensify.

Attorney Hasan Jabareen, who represented Zoabi in the court, said:

The fact that the repeated attempts to disqualify Arab MKs and political parties made over the last 15 years have had no legal basis, as the Israeli Supreme Court has consistently ruled, indicates that the aim of the right-wing is to de-legitimize the elected Arab leadership in Israel.

The case of Haneen Zoabi differs from the others in that an attempt was made to de-humanize her and to attack her personally as a woman. She was also branded as a terrorist simply for participating in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was a legitimate political act, and even though she has not been indicted for any crime. By contrast, some right-wing members of Knesset have been indicted for serious crimes and have even served time in prison, and yet there has been no attempt to expel them from the parliament.

Haneen Zoabi is placed second on Balad’s list for the coming elections, so unless the party fails to meet the two-percent threshold, she will serve in the next Knesset.