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Hanin Zoabi and Israel's point of no return

Some more thoughts of the “death of democracy” scenario that might take place in the next elections

Susan Hattis Rolef has a piece in the Jerusalem Post dealing with the same issue I wrote about yesterday: the expected ban on MK Hanin Zoabi – and perhaps Balad and Raam-Taal parties as well – from participating in the next elections.

Hattis-Rolef seems to agree with me that this is a likely scenario, at least in the case of a personal disqualification of MK Zoabi.

There is no doubt that as elections for the 19th Knesset approach, right-wing parties will renew efforts to have Balad disqualified on the grounds that the party advocates turning Israel into “a state of all its citizens” – something they say essentially denies its existence as the state of the Jewish people. They also say Balad maintains contact with organizations that are defined in Israel as terrorist organizations.

In the past, the High Court of Justice has overturned Central Elections Committee decisions to disqualify Balad, but the last time the court ruled on this issue, it stated that Balad’s positions were problematic, implying that the party is walking on very thin legal ice. With the High Court’s more conservative makeup, and especially the approaching retirement of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, it is quite likely that next time the court will uphold a committee decision to disqualify Balad.

To that we can add that the 2009 ruling on Balad was a split decision, with Justice Levi arguing that the party should not be allowed to participate in the elections. It should also be noted that the law regarding these issues is very vague and broad, so if the court choses to do so, it could easily ban all Arab parties (and not just them). This is also from Hattis-Rolef:

According to The Immunity of Knesset Members, their Rights and Duties Law, MKs enjoy full immunity for any act they perform within the framework of their parliamentary work. There are four exceptions to this rule: the act involves denying the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People; it denies its nature as a democratic state; it incites to racism based on race or national-ethnic origin or supports the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist acts against the State of Israel, or for such acts against Jews or Arabs because they are Jews or Arabs, in Israel and abroad.

Incidentally these are also the four grounds for disqualifying parties from running for the Knesset.

Currently, three parties – Hadash, Balad and Raam-Taal – are calling for “a state for all its citizens” model in Israel, so essentially, they could be seen as violating the first article in the law (opposing the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People). One could also claim that some religious and rightwing MKs incite to racism or deny the democratic nature of the state. Yet it all comes down to the fact that the decision won’t be a legal but a political one, and since the right enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Knesset and the Supreme Court is more conservative than ever, the effort to limit the political representation of Arab citizens is highly likely to succeed.

If I had to bet on it, I would say that in the current atmosphere Zoabi is likely to be disqualified; the ruling on her party Balad, can go each way; and Raam-Taal will be banned by the Central Elections Committee but later allowed to run by the Court. Such rulings will also increase the court’s tendency to search for “middle grounds” that would please the Jewish elites.

[Needless to say, I personally find all of Balad’s known positions and actions, including Zoabi’s, perfectly legitimate, even if I don’t agree or support them all.]

In such an event, we will be faced with the following dilemmas:

–    Should Balad participate in the elections if MK Zoabi is expelled from the Knesset?

–    Should other Arab or left parties participate in the elections if MK Zoabi or Balad are disqualified?

–    Should Arab citizens of Israel vote in elections in which their representatives – or at least some of them – are not allowed to participate for political reasons?

Since a general boycott of the elections by the Arabs would have grave consequences on the national conversation – it would surly help promote Lieberman’s plan to transfer the Palestinians to the future Palestinian “state” – and since there is no hope of ever forming a center-left coalition in Israel without a strong showing by the Arab parties, I believe that the Zoabi-Balad case might turn out to be one of Israel’s most critical moments of truth.

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    1. Y.

      You did not read the article carefully enough. Individual MKs _can’t_ be “disqualified” by the election committee. It was mentioned as a suggestion by the author, which stated this is not allowed yet…

      (Oh, and as I mentioned in the previous comments, Arabs are already moving in the de-facto boycott direction:


      One can conclude that a Leftist victory is already nigh impossible, barring some dramatic events.

      Reply to Comment
    2. @Y: Since the elections to the 16th Knesset, the CEC has authority to disqualify individual candidates and not just full lists.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Y.

      Yea, I looked at the law and it is possible now[1]. Apparently Rolef was misinformed[2]…
      “It is time the law is amended so that individuals can be disqualified as well.” (from the article)

      Reply to Comment
    4. As I am not an Israeli, I am confused by the notion of a “country of the Jewish people”. What does “of” mean here, operationally rather than, say, mystically, and in terms of permitted immigration?

      For example, may Israel make a reality of this “of”-ness by making a law to disburse state funds for pensions for elderly Jews anywhere in the world? Would this violate “democracy”?

      And what does “democracy” mean? In what ways is the state required to treat all its citizens equally? (Indeed, does the notion of “democracy” connect at all with the notion of “citizen” or, for that mater with the notion of “Jewish people”). May any member of the Jewish People vote, or must one be a citizen?

      Does a candidate or party which demands equal expenditure for Arab villages as for Jewish villages (say, on a per capita basis) violate “democracy”? Violate “of”-ness? Violate anything?

      Is there any program at all whose reversal would be against “of”-ness other than the right of return of Jews? And how about that? Would a proposal to revoke the right of return of Jews (say as part of a law ending all immigration) be contrary to “democracy”? Contrary to “of”-ness?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Igor

      @PABELMONT, the beauty of this definition (“Jewish and Democratic”) is in its ambiguity. In the absence of a Constitution, the “democracy” and the “of”-ness is open to interpretation. The answer to any of your rhetoric questions can be “yes”, “no”, “both” or “neither”, depending on the circumstances.

      Reply to Comment
    6. I wish I had something new to say. I see only one long term viable strategy for political discourse on the left: adhere to the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document. The State is “Jewish” in that the right of ingress is inviolate; this has no impact on democracy for Israeli citizens, or equal protection of social and political rights as mandated by the Declaration. I do not think this view will get you anywhere at first, but you seem to think nothing will get you anywhere in anycase. So plan for after your defeat. Continuously call for a constitutional convention. J14 remains a wild card in potential. You will never get a left majority in the populace, but even Knesset rightist fracture on some issue of social access within the Jewish population. Small victories there may change other battles elsewhere, later. This is a small hope, but you seem to have become hopeless in all else. I wish I could say with any conviction that you are wrong; but I cannot.

      Reply to Comment