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For a few votes, Labor joins the attacks on Haneen Zoabi

Two years ago Herzog adamantly stated that the Labor party principally opposes disqualifying any Knesset candidates. Now, in what appears to be the groundwork for joining a Netanyahu government, he and Tzipi Livni want to stop Haneen Zoabi from running for office.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Labor leader Isaac Herzog, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s joint list, “The Zionist Camp,” announced this week that they will support a request to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi and Kahanist settler Baruch Marzel from running in upcoming Knesset elections. The motion to disqualify the Balad MK is expected to pass by near consensus in the Central Elections Committee — with the support of everyone from Jewish Home to Labor. Meretz is the only non-Arab party expected to oppose Zoabi’s disqualification.

Disqualifying Zoabi has become an Israeli political ritual in recent years, but one in which Labor hasn’t always taken part. In the most recent elections Labor opposed Zoabi’s disqualification, on the grounds that “some things are more important than hot-bloodedness,” specifically, basic democratic values. There is a video of Labor leader Isaac Herzog at the time making an impassioned speech against Zoabi’s disqualification at the Central Elections Commission. Among other things, Herzog said:

Civil liberties, the freedom of conscience and expression, and the right to be elected, are all basic rights that can’t be violated even when it’s the most difficult … We in the Labor party, as a matter of principle … oppose disqualifying anybody.

So what changed? Firstly, Herzog now sees himself as a candidate for the premiership. Secondly, the Zionist Camp is down in the polls. Nothing has changed about Zoabi. The disqualification is an attempt to attract voters from the Right and to improve Labor’s position and interests in the Center-Left political block — to throw Meretz a life-line by making themselves seem less “lefty,” and to steal a seat or two from Lapid, Kahlon or even Likud.

But even in political theater there are basic principles that cannot be compromised. Relations between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel are one of them. It is the most volatile and sensitive issue, which was expressed in demonstrations and acts of violence this past summer — primarily against Palestinian citizens of Israel. One of the central sources of hope for a Herzog victory was the prospect that he might stop the steady stream of fuel the Right has been pouring onto that bonfire. Backing the attempt to disqualify Zoabi in these elections is far more than an election stunt meant to steal a few votes from Avigdor Liberman — it is the Labor party becoming Liberman.

Considering that in both Labor and even Meretz there are people who wouldn’t mind seeing Zoabi exiled from the Knesset, it’s important to say clearly: Zoabi is being persecuted for words, not acts. If there were concrete accusations against her, for taking part attempting to break the Gaza blockade onboard the Mavi Marmara, for instance, she would be brought to court, like former Balad chairman Azmi Bishara. (Bishara is living in exile since being accused of espionage.) Rehavam Ze’evi waved a sub-machine gun in the faces of Israeli soldiers and wasn’t disqualified from running for Knesset, MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Uri Ariel leaked information on IDF troop movements to settlers ahead of planned evictions and demolitions. All Zoabi has to do is insult an Arab police officer and the whole country is on its feet.

The real problem with Zoabi is that she says things that are outside the mainstream Israeli consensus. But the things she says are not outrageous among the Arab public (although there are a considerable number of people who disagree with her). The Knesset is the parliament for Palestinian citizens of Israel as much as it is for Jewish citizens, and it’s important that Zoabi is there; it’s important that significant segments of the public enjoy parliamentary representation. And that’s without even touching on the simple fact that far worse things are said about non-Jewish citizens inside the halls and plenum of Israel’s Knesset. If the Knesset equally applied to Jews and Arabs its restrictions on speech, half of its parliamentarians would be out looking for jobs.

MK Haneen Zoabi tries to enter the Aqsa Mosque via the Lions’ Gate, October 15, 2014. Police eventually let her and other members of Knesset enter. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi tries to enter the Aqsa Mosque via the Lions’ Gate, October 15, 2014. Police eventually let her and other members of Knesset enter. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

It is nothing short of fraud for the Labor party to equate Zoabi and Marzel. There are no lack of outspoken Kahanist representatives in Israel, but Marzel has crossed far more lines. During my own military service I personally saw him going around Hebron attacking passersby: spitting, throwing stones at rooftop water heaters and windows on Palestinian homes in Tel Rumeida, pushing. If Haneen Zoabi had spit on a Jew on the street and then broken the windows of her Jewish neighbors — then maybe there would be room for comparison. By the way, I’m not convinced that Marzel should be disqualified either, but there is no connection to Zoabi.

Herzog is supposed to know that. Hell, Herzog does understand it, as is evident from his speech to the Elections Commission in 2012. The chairman of of the Labor Party is molding himself into a successful politician of sorts — but also as somebody who won’t stake out a single original or principled position if his life depended on it. Herzog is being pulled out by the tide of public opinion, and in the process, making clear where he is heading: sitting in a coalition government with Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman. If he thought for a moment that he had a chance of forming a government on his own and becoming prime minister, he would need the support of the Arab parties in the Joint List. But if he’s not heading the government and the Arab parliamentarians’ support role is no longer necessary, then he can start fighting for votes with Liberman.

It’s fairly likely that the Supreme Court will reverse the Central Elections Commission’s decision to disqualify Zoabi. When the Commission disqualifies an entire political party the decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Contrarily, the Commission cannot even disqualify an individual candidate without the Court’s approval. (In practice, election disqualifications always reach the court.) The reason for the procedural difference is that there is something especially dangerous about a majority of MKs deciding who is and isn’t a legitimate elected representative. What is being said about Zoabi today is the same as what they used to say about Ahmad Tibi — and if she is disqualified, somebody new for them to attack will be elected in her place.

As far as the Right is concerned the entire Arab representation in Israeli politics is illegitimate. If Labor and Yesh Atid keep sliding rightward then all of the Arab politicians will eventually be disqualified. If the mainstream consensus shifts in that direction, the courts inevitably follow. It also clear where that path leads: a complete boycott of elections by the Arab public. That’s how an electoral calculation turns into political stupidity — without Palestinian votes the Left cannot survive, morally or politically — and relations between Jews and Arabs will devolve into a terrifying new place.

It seems Livni and Herzog understand that as well, which demonstrates not only their lack of resolve but also their willingness to brush aside national interests when their personal political interests are at stake. Even worse is the gall to continue pointing to that as the difference between them and Netanyahu.

But this story is far larger than Haneen Zoabi. The radical right wouldn’t have been able to become such a politically and ideologically dominant force without the acquiescence of the Center. On its own, it doesn’t amount to a force to be reckoned with. The most significant change that took place in Israel over the past 20 years was the decision by the political Center to abandon the Left, instead choosing the radical Right, all in exchange for the crumbs it is able to scavenge from inside the government. Herzog could have continued to serve as a democrat from the back benches in the opposition. But one must climb over the Arabs in order to get into the seats of power in Israel — and Herzog understands that, too.

A version of this article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it here.

Why does the Israeli left oppose MK Haneen Zoabi?
The Knesset v. Zoabi: Israeli Arab MK’s politics put on trial

Special Coverage: 2015 Elections

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    1. Kolumn4

      The Arab parties already rejected the idea of sitting in a government with Herzog. As such Herzog doesn’t have anything really to lose politically from coming out correctly in support of a move towards banning a traitorous terror-supporting candidate from running for the Parliament of a country that she hates and wishes to see destroyed.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      K-$: If you ever stop lying I think the world would stop in its tracks. The Arab parties’ stated they wouldn’t support Herzog AFTER Labor announced their smart, undemocratic idea to disqualify a member of an Arab party from running as a candidate. Who do you think you are telling someone they can’t even run because you disagree with her positions? If she has constituents, she is THEIR representative, not yours. A Fascist move by the so-called “Zionist camp” who are apparently living up to their name. In other words, stick it in your ear, fascist. When you learn what a true democracy is, call us. Otherwise disappear back under your rock.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Mike: “The Arab parties’ stated they wouldn’t support Herzog AFTER Labor announced their smart, undemocratic idea to disqualify a member of an Arab”

        Arab rejectionism of the possibility of joining a left wing coalition long pre-dated Herzog’s announcement on February 5, 2015 to seek disqualification of Zoabi.

        January 17, 2015, Times of Israel,
        MK Ahmed Tibi is quoted to say that Herzog had approached him and Mohammad Barakeh of the Hadash party
        about the possibility of joining a Zionist Camp-led coalition. Tibi indicated that the two told Herzog it could not be done.

        January 22, 2015 Gil Hoffman interviewed Hadash MK Hana Sweid who stated that the combined Arab party won’t join a coalition after the election even if Labor party Chairman and current Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog forms the government.

        January 23, 2015 Times of Israel confirms that Arab party rejected Herzog’s offer of a place in any coalition government.

        February 1 ,2015 Masud Ganaim, No. 2 in the joint Arab list
        tells the Times of Israel that

        “We will certainly not be part of the government, no matter how left-wing it is,”

        Watchman of Zion Febuary 3, 2015

        “The Arab party said that they would not join any Herzog government coalition”

        972mag.com February 5, 2005 printed an interview with MK Jamal Zahalka during which he reiterated that the joint Arab list would not join any coalition.


        “Do you see the Joint List participating in the government in any way?”

        Jamal: “Absolutely not”

        Times of Israel February 6, 2015 reported that left-of-center Zionist Camp Knesset list on Thursday [Feb. 5] signed on to an initiative to disqualify the controversial Arab Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi from running in the elections.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Zakkai

      Yeah, Herzog is spineless, unprincipled and stupid. What else is new?

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Some people underestimate Isaac Herzog. He may be short in stature and soft spoken but he is a intelligent, capable and formidable political opponent. He helped Ehud Barak unseat Netanyahu in 1999. He served as a minister in several Israeli governments. His ministries were well run.

        Shelly Yacimovich underestimated Buji and lost the leadership of Labor to him. Moreover Buji has taken Labor from a position of impotence to challenging Likud for dominance in the Knesset. He courted and won Tzipi Livni to join the Labor party. He also very boldly courted the new Arab list to join the coalition.

        If his party wins more seats than Lokud, this skilled behind the scene politician has the ability to bring diverse interests together in a government coalition. The only question is without the Arab list are there enough seats on the left and in the center for him to form a block of 61 seats or more to govern Israel?

        If the Israeli public votes in Labor and Herzog is able to form a coalition government he will make a good Prime Minister. Internally he will try to implement economic reforms and externally he will present a softer face to Israel’s allies and enemies just like Shimon Peres did. The Europeans and American Administration will love him. They will fall backwards over themselves to work with him. If he discovers, as every other prime minister has, there is no Palestinian peace partner, or if he has to go to war, no one will question his motives.

        Herzog presents Israelis with a compelling choice between himself and Netanyahu. Before the election campaign began, many pundits thought that the election would be a walkover for the tried and true Netanyahu. Herzog has made it a race.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          ” externally he will present a softer face to Israel’s allies and enemies just like Shimon Peres did. The Europeans and American Administration will love him.”

          You’re probably right about this. I think you’re wrong about what he will “discover.” So like any number of recent commentators I think it’s probably best in the long run that Netanyahu win. Because Herzog and Livni are just a pretty face. They are not any more serious about ending the occupation. And let Bibi win by pulling out all the racist stops and inducing in the Americans bipartisan revulsion. He’s well on the way to doing that now. And it’s only going to get worse as Ron Dermer and the ZOA’s Mort Klein pour oil on the fire and go postal. And then let the true security people inside Israel identify how Bibi is actually serving as an Iranian agent.

          Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Barak Ravid in Haaretz:

          “The crisis has diverted attention in both Washington and Jerusalem from the real goal: obtaining an agreement that will prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. And not only has this crisis damaged Israel’s standing in America and worldwide, but it has also made Iran think it is winning.

          Unknowingly, Netanyahu has become the Iranians’ secret weapon. If he didn’t exist, the Iranians would have to invent him. Destroying the strategic alliance with America would be a real existential threat to Israel, but so far, he’s much closer to leaving scorched earth in Washington than he is to stopping Iran’s centrifuges. In this situation, Iranian leaders don’t have to do a thing but sit in front of the television, eat popcorn and laugh.”

          Reply to Comment
    4. Mikesailor

      Pedro Pan: And what did Herzog so magnanimously offer the Joint List? A halt to settlement expansion? Equal rights for all citizens? An end to Jewish privilege? Or merely the same old crap: the Ministry of Underwater Basket-Weaving, for instance. The “Zionist Camp” going against the premier commandment of Zionism: Thou shalt not let any non-Jew accede to a position of real political power”? Hard to put lipstick on a pig, isn’t it?

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Herzog offered the Arab list, a seat in the Kabinet. He offered them a seat in the corridors of power. He offered them an opportunity to participate in the decision and budget making processes of the government of Israel. He gave them the ability to advance Arab Israeli interests in Israel.

        Historically Arab parties have chosen to confer with dictators in Syria, Iraq and Libya instead of participating in Israeli government where they might have been able to serve their constituents. Herzog offered the Arab list a door of opportunity which the party declined.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Felix Reichert

      Out of curiosity:
      Which Israeli government, or potential prime minister ever offered the Arab parties a coalition?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      I wonder if even Pedro X will vote for Zionist Camp because of them joining a resolution against Zoabi.

      However, the calculation may be that Likudnik Kahlon and Lapid would not join the government with Zoabi’s party, whatever it may be, so ZC needs to do something to be “on the same wavelength”. On the other hand, one could offer Joint List a non-fascist leadership in the Interior Ministry and police in exchange for “outside support”, and that would would allow to form ZC government.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      Just In: Herzog attacked Bibi saying he didn’t kill enough Palestinians in Gaza. Perhaps the “Arabs” suffer from nothing but being good judges of character, or the lack thereof, of Israeli Zionist leaders.

      Reply to Comment
    8. David

      You should be ashamed of defending Zoabi when she considers the slaughter of 3 teens un-terroristic. There’s no way to accept the unacceptable on one side and not on the other one.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mikesailor

      David: The problem is the loaded connotation of the word: “terrorism”. Was the killing of the Khdeir boy called “Terrorism” by any Zionist either in the media or in politics? I’ve only heard “nationalistic” to describe those murderers. It seems that only if the victims are Jews, and the perpetrators are Palestinian, that acts are ascribed to “terrorism”. In fact, when Palestinian children are killed, often times the rationale I have read from Israel-supporters is that somehow the kids either “deserved’ their fate or it was the parent’s fault for “neglecting to keep them home’. Yet, when Israeli parents let their minor children hitchhike through occupied territory and they are killed, I have not heard it was the parent’s fault once. So, tell me again why Zoabi is singled out? When every day Zionists say far worse about any “Arab” they want? Why is there immunity for Zionists yet none for their victims? Listen to Shaked, Bennet, Lieberman or Netanyahu for that matter. What type of hypocrite are you? Or you never thought about it quite that way? What is your excuse, David?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mikesailor

      David: I never heard Zoabi condone the murders. She merely refused to call the criminals “terrorists”. I have noticed that the term “terrorists” has now been only reserved for “Arabs” when Jews are the victims of whatever act. Now contrast that with criminal acts perpetrated by Jews against “Arabs” or Druze, Bedouin, ..anyone not Jewish. Are the perpetrators dubbed “terrorists”? Usually, the closest Zionists come is calling the perpetrators “nationalistically motivated”. Is arson in mosques “terrorism’? Beating or shooting the unarmed with impunity? Remember, during the 1920-1950’s, “terrorism” was defined as the “Jewish” method of ethnic cleansing. As for “incitement”, listen to Shaked or Bennett who regularly incite and dehumanize not only Palestinians but any non-Jew including African asylum-seekers. I just hate the hypocrisy of those who wish to pigeonhole violence with the language holding Palestinians synonymous with “terrorism” while never or rarely using the same term to describe their own.

      Reply to Comment