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Election committee bans Palestinian MK Zoabi from participating in elections

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.

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

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.

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    1. adam eichner

      what was the basis for the election committee’s decision? while the article goes into her flotilla involvement, it isn’t clear- was THAT the basis for the decision? a link to a pdf of the published decision (even a translation) would be appreciated.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Her presence on the Marmara was used as a practical expression of her being hostile to the state of Israel and in supporting Israel’s enemies.

        It doesn’t really matter though since the Supreme Court will probably reverse this decision as they always do. An Arab MK would need to bring a bomb to parliament to get excluded from an election and even then he might argue that it was symbolic and get away with it.

        Reply to Comment
    2. This action raises a question, I never heard answered before. How is it that Israel gets to claim it is a democracy, when it can ban a person from running for office?

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Israel gets to claim many things, and is rarely taken to task over them. For example, that it is democracy (the only one in the Middle East, no less!), that it is progressive, pluralistic, gay-friendly, egalitarian, peace-loving, freedom-loving, harmonious and law-abiding, to name just a few of its outlandish claims over the years.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        How can Belgium claim to be a democracy when it bans parties (Vlaams Blok) from running for parliament? How can the Czech Republic claim to be a democracy when it bans parties (Workers Party) from running for parliament? How can Spain claim to be a democracy when it bans parties (Batasuna) from running for parliament? How can Germany claim to be a democracy when it is AT PRESENT trying to ban the NDP from running for parliament?

        Any other sanctimonious nonsense on your part?

        Reply to Comment
        • Mitchell Cohen

          Interestingly enough, in America in order to run for President you have to have been born there. Even if you came to America as an infant, were a model citizen, served in the American military, etc. you still can NEVER run for president because you were not born there. Yet nobody (including myself) argues against America being a democracy.

          BTW, the only party AFAIK that has been banned in Israel was a Jewish (not Arab) one – Kach. Zoabi (as an individual might be banned), but NONE of the Arab parties are.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >but NONE of the Arab parties are.

            Not true. Hamas is. Baas too. Even Muslim Brothers.

            All of them are forced to operate illegally. It must be changed.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            It wasn’t like he asked the question in any seriousness. It is just a charge that gets flung about by idiots.

            Reply to Comment
          • Alon Levy

            BTW, the only party AFAIK that has been banned in Israel was a Jewish (not Arab) one

            False. In the 1960s, an anti-Zionist leftist party was banned, and Arab parties that were not handpicked by Mapai were also banned. The first party that was even Jewish-Arab, the Progressive List for Peace, only started in 1984. (The communist party at the time was still Jewish-dominated.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Alice Diane Kisch

            About “democracies”… The word “democracy” means “rule of the people”, with “Demos” meaning “people” and “cracy” or “kratos” meaning “power”.

            Accordingly, since the demise of the extraordinary Iroquois Confederacy, which dated from the 14th century in the northeastern part of what is now the United States of America, there has never existed a democracy on this planet, including ancient Greece, the so-called “cradle of democracy”.

            Among these non-democracies are Belgium, Spain, Czech Republic, Germany and, of course, the United States, where I was born and where I currently live. None of these countries has ever been a democracy. Israel is certainly not a democracy. Just because people vote does not mean that they live in a “democracy”.

            I would be much relieved if people were to refrain from talking about democracies until they learned what the word means! Current usage of the word is meaningless. But worse, the word “democracy” is deliberately used to obfuscate the corrupt realities of our actual political systems.

            As the sages of old were wont to say: “Get yourself a teacher.”

            Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Don’t you know?

          Jews are disallowed to have own state, be it democracy, monarchy or tyranny.

          Besides, why would they want to have one? It’s such a headache.

          Reply to Comment
    3. “The CEC is a political body whose members are determined in proportion to the representation of their parties in the Knesset.” : This structure nutures reverse ostracisms ala the Ancient Greeks. Greek democracy has the ostracism, where a vote could be called to ban an individual from the Athenian social economy for several years. If the vote to have an ostracism passed, then the next vote ostracized whoever garnered a plurality. The logic was to remove someone gathering too many supporters by having him removed by a coalition of his enemies before he held voting majorities, thereby leveling the field somewhat in future elections. Composition of the CEC is designed for the reverse: to target electorial marginals and remove them. High Court oversight acts as a rights check, thankfully, showing the tension between pure Knesset democracy and some form of insured rights.

      The Arab parties were not banned because the High Court overruled last time. Targeting Zoabi targets as well Court oversight. If she is reinstated on the list, the right nationalists can argue the Court needs more reform.

      Zoabi is an emblem of individual right to protest the siege; in mirror image she represents Arab “treason” to the State, as no Jewish MK can, apparently, be conceived as potentially taking her action. The nationalist right argues that she exemplifies the failure of rights protection as a State preserving principle. That is, Arabs will abuse rights against the State. She incarnates the danger of Arab participation. Rights here are not conceived as against the State, not hard to understand in a country self perceived at war its entire history.

      The alternative view is that rights are the only tool for stabalizing Israel internally in the long term. But the national right cannot conceive of interaction absent race, so this view becomes meaningless to them.

      In disclosure, I greatly admire what she did. To transcend the present structural impass wedges will be needed, and she tried to provide one. Maybe, someday, it will be said she didn’t just try but actually did.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I just checked Wiki on ostracism. Apparently, ancient Greeks invented everything (in philosophy and politics). There was also a ritual when a pharmakon (who was both a diviner and pharmacist) had to select a pharmakos and the latter was expelled from community, thus leading to purification. The pharmakos would be a cripple or another convenient scapegoat.

        Ostracism may be viewed as a form of term limit on the informal position of being the most influential person in the city.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      It seems the Knesset and its committees have a general attitude that they should make controversial moves and see if the courts will allow it. (Perhaps they confuse the separation of powers with democracy.) It seems that, more than elsewhere, Israeli legislators are not ashamed to create policy which is then to be overturned by the courts.

      Have I imagined this? Is it something cultural/systemic? Is it mere power-play and publicity?

      As far as the State’s publicity goes, it surely can only be detrimental.

      At the same time, I wonder whether such negative press is likely to create more ‘davka’ Balad votes on election day…

      Reply to Comment
      • No, Joel, your are not imagining it. The Knesset is derived from the an elected body called the Constituent Assembly. That body was mandated to write a constitution, conforming to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. Stories differ, but say that in dead lock, with a war on and looming, the Constitutent Assembly converted itself into the Knesset as legislative body. An Assembly to write a constitution to limit State Power converted itself into a Legislature without limits, as there is no constitution. The “Basic Laws” of the Knesset are simply legislative acts which can be repealled by it as it see fits. The Courts, especially under now retired Chief Justice Aaron Barak, began to articulate an independent constitutional jurisprudence, but this has largely been turned back by new members of the present Court.

        Israel is in constitutional crisis. The state of perpetual conflict gives the upper hand to the IDF and Knesset. I see the Courts in ideological retreat. So, yes, the Knesset has recently and likely will continue to pass legislation challenging the power of the courts. At present, I see not indication that the High Court will declare its place and turf.

        It is not all about the Palestinians, not at all. And that is, in my view, the present tragedy of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Piotr Berman

      “Her presence on the Marmara was used as a practical expression of her being hostile to the state of Israel and in supporting Israel’s enemies.”

      This is pretty thin gruel to justify n accusations of “treason” and so on. It is definitely a matter of legitimate political debate who the enemies of the state should be. According to some. Zoabi chief crime is contacting and helping the top Enemy of the State and the People, namely Zoabi.

      “How can Belgium claim to be a democracy when it bans parties (Vlaams Blok)” — nice that you have asked. Belgium has a constitution, and furthermore decisions of Belgian courts can be appealed to European court. I do not recall banning individuals — apart from anything else, it is kind of pointless.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        The flotilla was organized in conjunction with Hamas and other groups advocating the destruction of Israel. Zoabi’s presence on board constitutes active participation in their project. As such, she is very much guilty of treason. That should be sufficient to prevent her from running from public office. In any case, whether treason or not, the question is whether she and her party are advocating a change of Israel from being a Jewish and Democratic state. The answer is unequivocally yes and the law of the land allows for her disqualification from elections.

        Once again, according to your reasoning, banning parties or individuals on the basis of their opinions is undemocratic. How is it then that Belgium can consider itself a democracy when it did just that with Vlaams Blok? None of your points are actually relevant to the core question. For example, there are democracies without constitutions and autocracies with constitutions so that one is a red herring.

        Reply to Comment
        • “The flotilla was organized in conjunction with Hamas and other groups advocating the destruction of Israel”


          Reply to Comment
    6. jjj

      Not a nice day for Israeli democracy.
      Then again, Zoabi, knowingly and intentionally telling blood libels against Israel, and in particular, its soldiers, is no saint.
      Not that lying for political attention is unheard of, but this is stands on some boundary lines between vicious politics and true encitement.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        What were the alleged lies of Haneen Zoabi? One of the most cherished opinions in many societies is that nobody is more innocent than “our soldiers” when they fire in the line of duty. However, not sharing that opinion is not the same as “committing blood libel”.

        By the way, banning an individual by an act of the legislature (or applying any other sanctions) was an abuse quite typical in 18-th century England and thus specifically prohibited in American Constitution. It is called “bill of attainder”. While American Constitution is not a Holy Writ, it is an indication that this is a bad idea.

        Reply to Comment
        • jjj @Piotr Berman

          Agreed, banning Zoabi is a bad idea. But that’s where the agreement ends.

          Zoabi intentionally lied about the action of the soldiers, about them being murderous. Now, suppose I told Zoabi is a war criminal, that she gave directions to Hamas rocketeers, that she supplied terror organizations with armour, that she killed Jewish babies, out loud, what would that make me?
          Now, suppose I do that and run for the Knesset?
          What about the Egyptian parliament?
          Encitement has a purpose, and usually, not a nice one.

          Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Doubting innocence of our troops who killed the wounded by shots to the head from point blank range, according to autopsies! How low one can stoop! And didn’t she beat up commandoes with a metal bar? Pure terrorism, attacking civilians, almost babies!

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Who carried out the autopsies? The Turkish authorities? The ones that currently run reeducation camps for journalists and have been caught repeatedly in lies about the plane that was supposedly shot down over international waters?

            Is this coming from the same source that claimed that the terrorists on the Marmarra were peaceful despite video to the contrary? The ones that attacked IDF soldiers coming onto the ship equipped with paintball guns as is clearly visible in the video?

            Reply to Comment
    7. Dave Boxthorn

      I’m sure the ‘pro-democracy’ forces here were very much opposed to Kach being prevented from running.

      Or is this just a matter of who’s ox is gored?

      Reply to Comment
      • Before my time, Dave.

        I think it a bad idea to prohibit any citizen not convicted of a crime from running for elected office. Even at the height of the Cold War, there was a (hopeless) American Communist Party candidate for the Presidency, acquiring enough signitures to run in many States.

        But the US has niether direct memory of elected fascism nor a State communist past, so it is rather easy to allow a broad range of candidates without fear. And the US has an independent Court with a strong body of rights jurisprudence. Israel has the fears of Europe past and no stable rights jurispurdence, making party ban a tempting strategy for political stability. But, once used, the ban may be used for other reasons, later–as we see in Israel’s recent past and now. So, I think banning a mistake in Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    8. The Trespasser

      >I think it a bad idea to prohibit any citizen not convicted of a crime from running for elected office.

      I’d like to hear what you would say if an American senator would participate in an anti-American rally.


      Analogy to US Commies is a bit irrelevant. They never demanded to dismantle the USA or give all it’s territories back to native americans.

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        Thank you for the great link. It was very informative to listen to MK Zoabi and I think it deserves a “972mag watch it” link.

        Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I guess in USA the consequences of a rally would be left for the ballot box.

        Basically, all “crimes” of Hanin Zoabi are of making opinion statements that the majority find deeply annoying for some reason I do not understand. In other countries deputies of the opposition may call the deputies of the ruling coalition “traitors” so the are called “idiots” and there is that. Worst come to worse, there is a fisticuff at the hallowed floor of the Parliament which makes a great material for videos uploaded to U-tube.

        The fact is that what Israel deputies do with Zoabi is copied from Turkey where a female Kurdish deputy recited a Kurdish poem from the podium at the Parliament which was followed by a melee, sanctions etc. So we can observe certain consistent habits characteristic in the time zone of Israel, Turkey and Ukraine.

        Reply to Comment
      • What Piotr, immediately above, said.

        Wouldn’t bother me at all if a US Senator participated in an anti-American rally (whatever that is). As Piotr implies, s/he probably wouldn’t be re-elected. But Zoabi, if not banned, probably WOULD be re-elected–and that is what infuriates.

        My view is that you need Zoabis to create wedges in your political discourse. K9, above, as likely you, is willing to siege the economic lives of over a million until Hamas does what you say. It hasn’t worked so far, and I see no reason for it to work later. It is not Zoabi’s stand as such which is important; it is that she had the courage to take a stand for those million. You might not like it, but it is a place to begin.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Haha. What hasn’t worked so far? There have been no rockets fired for a month and the border crossings to Israel are still closed. Hamas wants to open the crossings to Egypt and dissociate itself from Israel. Turkey and Qatar seem to want to play along. Other than the occasional rocket Hamas is a nice little subcontractor. A few more years of this and maybe one more blowup and the blockade on Gaza might end with Hamas’ Muslim friends taking responsibility for it.

          Zoabi is acting as an enemy of Israel. She should be banned from running. Then again she and Balad really just confirm the inherent hostility of Arabs to Israel, so she too serves a useful function. The fury she causes only reinforces the consensus and shifts it rightwards, which I believe to be the less delusional direction to be in. Man, if the Israeli Arabs actually elected a party that wanted to take part in running the state instead of trying to undermine it, it might make the Jewish consensus actually think that the right is wrong and the Arabs are really ready for cooperation. I might have to change my opinions on the entire issue. But, they don’t.

          Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            Kolumn9 gloats that Israel immediately broke all terms of the truce, proving once more that it is utterly untrustworthy.

            IDF is shooting civilians for the crime of walking on their own soil, maintaining blockade, indeed, against the truce terms, arresting fishermen, ditto. But the constitutional crisis in Egypt is ending, and Israel may rue its easy victories and treachery.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Nonsense. All the crap that Hamas put out when they declared victory is nowhere to be found in the document that was signed. People are shot when they try to breach the border.

            Egypt is a basketcase. They can barely afford food for their people. A constitution doesn’t change this reality.

            Reply to Comment
    9. dino

      This incident is a peak of Israeli idiocy and probably the “head”behind this gangster style action is the hooligan Lieberman.The attack on the nave couldn’t bring a proof about bad intentions of any of the passagers save the intention to help humble people of gaza closed in the bigger jail of the world,a concentration camp where food comes through tunels.The idiotic action drove to the break of relation with Turkey .a country important in Israel policy ,if really exists something like this and not all is left on US automatic and inexplicable support.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I would say that Lieberman was definitely the cheerleader, pre-determining that the flotilla is “terrorist”, but the decision had to be Netanyahu’s, and detail of the execution — and executions — in the hands of Ehud Barak.

        Reply to Comment
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