An automatic appeal before the Supreme Court will be heard next week. Zoabi’s party, Balad, has already announced it will withdraw from the elections if the decision is not reversed.
Israel’s Central Election Committee (CEC) voted today (Wednesday) to disqualify Palestinian Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi from participating in the coming elections. MK Zoabi is the number two candidate on Balad’s Knesset list. The decision is automatically transferred to the Supreme Court, which will hear the appeal next week. Earlier today, Balad announced that if the Supreme Court doesn’t allow Zoabi to run, the entire party will withdraw from the elections.
The decision did not come as a surprise: The CEC is a political body whose members are determined in proportion to the representation of their parties in the Knesset. The current committee therefore has a clear right-wing majority. The decision to ban Zoabi from taking part in the elections was also supported by members of Kadima, widely considered a centrist party. Labor, Meretz, Hadash, Livni’s Hatnua party and the Palestinian parties voted against, and the result was 19-9 in favor of the disqualification.
Interestingly enough, the CEC rejected requests to disqualify Palestinian parties Balad and Ra’am Ta’al from taking part in the elections. In previous elections, both parties were disqualified but the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Still, Balad held a press conference today, in which party leader Dr. Jamal Zahalka made it clear that Balad will not run without Zoabi:
This [move] hurts the entire Arab public. Its purpose is to weaken the political power of the Arab citizens in the Knesset and to strengthen the Israeli right. We fully support MK Zoabi and all her actions, and we emphasize again that if the Supreme Court does not reverse the decision, Balad will not take part in the coming elections.
MK Zoabi, the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, was singled out by the Israeli right in 2010 due to her participation in the first Gaza flotilla. But despite all the video evidence that the IDF confiscated from passengers on the Mavi Marmara, it failed to prove that MK Zoabi knew or took place in any action against IDF soldiers who stormed the ship (leaving eight Turkish citizens and one American dead). After failing to press criminal charges against Zoabi, coalition members tried to withdraw some of her rights as an MK, and even to physically attack her. At one point, the Knesset speaker had to assign bodyguards to the Arab Knesset member.
Here is a video (with English subtitles) showing Knesset Members preventing MK Zoabi from speaking:
Chances are that the Supreme Court will indeed let Zoabi run (I am pretty sure that some of the MKs who voted against her had this in mind). Israeli law actually makes it harder to prevent a specific candidate, rather than an entire party, from running, and the evidence against him or her needs to be very strong. This is not the case with Zoabi. Earlier this week, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued an opinion claiming there is not enough evidence to disqualify Zoabi. It is thus very unlikely that even the current Supreme Court, which is more conservative then previous ones, will take a different position.
In the unlikely event that Zoabi is disqualified, a boycott – at least partial – of the elections by Palestinian citizens of Israel will probably take place. Such a scenario won’t only change the outcome of the vote, but would also be a watershed moment between Arab and Jewish citizens in Israel, the significance of which will be felt long after these elections.