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It's time to disqualify Israel's Central Elections Committee

In the run-up to every general election since 2003, Arab parties and candidates have been forced to appear in front of this committee to prove that they deserve to participate in Knesset elections. The only thing worse than the process itself is the racist atmosphere in the meetings.

By Salah Mohsen

The Central Elections Committee (CEC), which votes on disqualification motions submitted against political parties and candidates, and has the power to ban them from running in the Knesset elections, has in recent years become a farcical and undignified charade. In the run-up to every general election since 2003, Arab parties and candidates have been forced to appear in front of this committee, composed primarily of marginal political players from parties that represent the Jewish majority, in order to prove that they deserve to participate in the Knesset elections.

What is worse than the process itself – which amounts to the repeated trial of the political representatives of the Palestinian minority in Israel – is the hate-filled and racist atmosphere that saturates these sessions. From the moment they enter the chamber, the representatives of Arab political parties face a barrage of racist remarks and slurs that ends only when they leave the room. In a true democratic state, the mere utterance of such racist statements would be sufficient grounds to bar a member from the committee, and the offender may even find him or herself facing criminal prosecution.

As someone who has attended all the CEC’s disqualification sessions since 2003, I can attest that in its recent review of the disqualification motions against Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, the committee slumped to a new low. As soon as MK Zoabi stepped up to the podium to deliver her response to the disqualification motions, the CEC members turned into a baying mob that interrupted her speech countless times. They repeatedly subjected MK Zoabi to racist and chauvinistic insults, and slandered her as a terrorist and a subversive character.

The peak of their impudence came when MK Zoabi read aloud a sentence in Arabic, after which one of the committee members shouted out: “I’m scared that you are going to say ‘Allahu Akbar’ and blow yourself up!” The chair of the CEC, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, did not fulfil his duty to defend MK Zoabi’s right to voice her response to the disqualification motions, which were filled with slanderous and racist claims against her. Instead, he urged her to wrap up her speech while repeatedly asking the committee members to keep calm, and to “show me some respect and let me run the session.”

MK Haneen Zoabi addresses the Central Elections Committee during a hearing over her disqualification from Knesset elections, February 12, 2015. (Screenshot)

MK Haneen Zoabi addresses the Central Elections Committee during a hearing over her disqualification from Knesset elections, February 12, 2015. (Screenshot)

A closer look at these CEC sessions indicates that the kinds of cases that come before it over and over again center on the following questions: is the political vision of the Arab parties in the Knesset legitimate? Are Arabs citizens permitted to demand full equality? Are they allowed to express their solidarity with their people living under Israeli occupation and military suppression? These and other questions that are political in nature should not be subject to interrogation, at least not before the CEC and not in the context of motions to disqualify political party slates or candidates.

The coverage by the Israeli media of the disqualification process – which is given far more attention than the regular political activities of Arab MKs – represents the continued negotiation of the limits created by the Israeli establishment to confine the political activities of the Palestinian minority, and has lacked any genuinely critical analysis. Arab citizens and their concerns are excluded from the agendas of the Zionist political parties, and rarely if ever appear in the discussions surrounding the Israeli elections. Instead, the main context in which Arab citizens are mentioned during the elections is in relation to the question of their solidarity with the Palestinian people in the OPT, asking whether this solidarity constitutes support for terrorist organizations, and whether Arabs should even have the right to participate in the elections.

The only consolation is that the Arab MKs are far more capable, on a personal and professional level, than the MKs on the CEC. They have successfully managed to turn this hostile forum into a platform on which to rearticulate their political positions and vision, despite the surrounding chaos. Of course, their words have no effect whatsoever on the CEC’s members or its decisions. In my view, however, we can revisit these statements in the future to assess the extent to which we, as Arabs in Israel, employed all available means to improve our status and the conditions in which we live in this state. The Arab MKs’ statements may also provide material for a possible self-evaluation and reflection by Israeli society in the future, if it ever reaches such a point.

Read also: The road to a 4th Netanyahu gov’t runs through Haneen Zoabi

In previous elections, a clear majority of the Supreme Court decided to overturn the CEC’s decisions to disqualify Arab parties and candidates. This fact, however, has not been enough to persuade the ruling parties to stop repeating this demeaning process. If the Supreme Court wants to take a serious position against the suppression of the minority by the majority, then it must not only overturn the disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi, but also use its ruling to criticize the use of disqualifications as a tool for settling political scores or chasing votes on the eve of the elections.

The time has come to demand that the power to decide the disqualifications of political parties and candidates be wrested from the CEC, and instead transferred to a judicial body that would be charged with reviewing the disqualification motions from an objective point of view based on the facts of the case at hand, and charged with protecting the notions of “minorities,” “difference of opinion” and “basic rights.”

Salah Mohsen is the Media Director of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. A version of this article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Related:
The road to a fourth Netanyahu gov’t runs through Haneen Zoabi
For a few votes, Labor joins the attacks on Haneen Zoabi

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    COMMENTS

    1. Weiss

      And yet ANOTHER reason why I am Ashamed to be Jewish.

      And the list keeps on growing…

      Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        You should be more ashamed about being s pu$$y

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bryan

      My good friend Big Cat will be along in a moment to explain that having a Central Elections Committee to ensure that candidates are Zionist enough ensures that Israel has a purer and truer democracy than the corrupt old Western states like the UK. Can you imagine a democracy that appoints a committee to decide who can stand for election – Power to the People. He may explain that the Supreme Court is sometimes reluctant to support the decisions of these fascists, but he will admit that many right wing Israelis are determined to reign back on the power of the Supreme Court so that fascism can reign supreme.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        When it comes to Democracy and the Rule of law, Israel is superior to the UK. This can’t be emphasized enough.

        1. This is one of the declarations a candidate for elections must make in the UK:

        “…I declare that, if elected, I will not by word or deed express support for or approval of – (a) any organization that is for the time being a proscribed organisation specified in Schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2002; or LE2 (b) acts of terrorism (that is to say, violence for political ends) connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland…..”. MK Zoabi would have suffered harsher “punishment” in the UK than in Israel.

        2. “Israel is a country of laws” said a commenter on this site. Democracy is not a system of anarchy as you think, Bryan, but of laws that guaranteed the freedoms of its subjects (I am paraphrasing John Locke (1632-1704) here). Israel has laws to protect national security, the personal safety of its citizens, the integrity of its democratic process and its House Of Parliament/Legislature/Knesset, etc. In the past, Israel has banned right-wing parties (not just individuals), e.g. Kach, from taking part in the electoral process. Currently, Israel has banned not just MK Zoabi (a far leftist politician), but also Baruch Marzel (a far rightwing politician) from becoming candidates in the next election (for inciting racism reps. armed conflict against the country, etc.). Both don’t like the decisions. Both can head to the court and the court will decide if (a) the law and (b) the decision to ban them is anti-democratic/unlawful.

        We know, Bryan, that you are extremely intelligent and that your knowledge surpasses that of the entire University Of Oxford Library, but do you also assume to understand the law and democracy better than the Israeli Supreme Court? Isn’t that rather more than presumptuous?

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          Btw., Bryan,

          The UK has also got an “Central Election Committee” as you call it (the proper name is Electoral Commission) (that can disqualify candidates in the elector process!). Pls. allow me to borrow your sentence and exclaim: “Can you imagine a democracy that appoints a committee to decide who can stand for election – Power to the People”.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            You really don’t get this democracy thing, do you, Icat? Israel has a Central Election Committee composed of MKs whose role is to proscribe political parties based on their ideological platform and to ban parties that negate Israel’s “Jewish and democratic status”. If the majority of Israel’s population favoured a non-Jewish state, their political representation would be disqualified in order to preserve this contradiction of “Jewish and democratic”.

            You are correct that the UK has an Electoral Commission (not a Central Election Committee) but it is independent of government and solely responsible for safeguarding democracy (not undermining it), by for instance: ensuring the integrity and transparency of party electoral finance (so that US casino moguls cannot subvert democracy), ensuring a complete and accurate register of voters and ensuring well-run elections and referenda – not in vetting who can stand for election. In a democracy you cannot preserve the current regime by denying the people the right to vote for the candidates of their choice. You trust the people – you trust that they have a mature judgement of their own self-interest and are adequately informed by the media, rather than allowing bureaucrats to decide for them for whom they can vote.

            Britain has had a serious terrorism problem, but never once did the British government attempt to ban Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, and many have judged that this conflict was eventually resolved because Sinn Fein needed to appeal to the electorate and therefore negotiated with the British government, allied with other political organisations, and distanced itself from violence. The only action taken to restrict the political influence of Sinn Fein was a 1988 ban by the Thatcher government on the voices of Sinn Fein representatives being broadcast, on the basis that it wanted to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”. This ban was swiftly circumvented by “furious media lobbying against the ban”. (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2217919.stm)

            Your remark that the UK Electoral Commission “can disqualify candidates in the elector process!” is a deliberate attempt to deceive – this cannot be done on the basis of political platform but only on technical grounds (e.g. being a UK citizen or Commonwealth or Irish citizens, not having sponsorship by 10 supporters, not being a bankrupt or convict etc).

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            “…Only on technical grounds”? Wow, you are indeed extremely intelligent and the vastness of your knowledge makes Encyclopedia Britannica look like children’s book. Why the long rambling if candidates in the UK can be barred from being elected “only on technical grounds”?

            Anyways, this might teach you one or two things:

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1326930/By-election-ordered-Labour-MP-Phil-Woolas-barred-Commons-3-years.html

            Now, that is undemocratic, isn’t it? And would not happen in Israel, would it?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I suspect that when someone begins a post by patronizing someone as intelligent and knowledgable they may have already lost the argument. Anyway regarding your excellent riposte – you will have noted that (1) the Daily Mail says “Decision is first ruling of its kind in 99 years” whereas in Israel the Arab parties (not just a single candidate) are banned every 4 years; (2) the decision was not made because of the political policies of Mr Woolas, but because he had knowingly lied about the conduct of his opponent (and late in a very close campaign in which his opponent had had no chance to respond to allegations against him). If the Israel Central Elections Committee were to ban every candidate that knowingly lied to the electorate your Knesset would be half empty. Nevertheless I must admit, as a democrat, I would have preferred that his election was merely overturned but that he was not banned for three years. I notice however that despite your vocal support for the purity of Israeli democracy you not offered one word of criticism of the Central Elections Committee for banning political parties, but have merely engaged in “whataboutery” by attempting to whitewash your country by conjuring up defects in other country’s processes.

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            Thank you for your grudging concession, Bryan. But here is another false claim you made, oh ye whose wisdom makes Encyclopedia Britannica look like a children’s book:

            Bryan: “Britain has had a serious terrorism problem, but never once did the British government attempt to ban Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA”

            Encyclopedia Britannica: “Although a registered party in Ireland, Sinn Féin was banned in the United Kingdom until 1974. Because many of its leaders were thought to be members of the IRA, the party was subject to expulsion orders and broadcasting bans in both the United Kingdom and Ireland.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/546134/Sinn-Fein

            What shall we do now, oh ye Albert Einstein of +972? Should we call Encyclopedia Britannica and ask ‘it’ to rectify it’s shameful and egregious error it has committed?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Again Icat you have gone off half-cock. Sinn Fein was not banned as a political party in the UK but some of its members, who did not have British passports were prevented from entering the UK. I’m heartened by your solicitude for unrestricted freedom of movement but please note that Israel has also denied entry to Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein (see http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/gaza-strip-sinn-feins-gerry-adams-banned-by-israel-1478249)

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            Bryan,

            Are you so rattled and confused that you don’t even realize the article (by Dominic Gover) you linked does NOT in any way, shape or form contradict Encyclopedia Britannica?! Why are you holding on to an obvious falsehood everyone can see? What kind of Albert Einstein are you, Bryan?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      “As someone who has attended all the CEC’s disqualification sessions since 2003, I can attest that in its recent review of the disqualification motions against Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, the committee slumped to a new low.”- it’s actually not that hard to talk to real human beings who’ve been there. Once I and 8 other people spent the afternoon with Jaff Halper and Salim Shawamreh of ICAHD, which is one reason i know all the stuff about home demolitions is true.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        1. NOT just MK Zoabi (a Muslim from the far-left), but also Baruch Marzel (a Jew from the far-right) is barred from becoming a candidate in the next election (for inciting racism reps. armed conflict against the country, etc.). Both can appeal the decisions in their resp. cases and the court will decide if (a) the law and (b) the decision to ban them is anti-democratic/unlawful. The court will hear their appeals in a matter of days.!

        2. In the past, Israel has banned Jewish right-wing parties (not just individuals), e.g. Kach, from taking part in the electoral process. To date, no Arab party has been banned. Your comment or rather copy pasted material is nothing but propaganda.

        But hey, feel free to rant as usual. We know you neither know nor can do any better.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sara

          Marzel was disqualified by a majority of one vote. Fortunately disqualified. This does not make the behavior of our elected representatives any less racist. The “centrist” party – thee Zionist Camp joined in the bigotry by voting to disqualify Zoabi. Ignoring the serious problems of bigotry and racism will not make this country a better place.

          Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            “Ignoring the serious problems of bigotry and racism will not make this country a better place”.

            100% correct!

            However, I do not think that the disqualification of MK Zoabi was driven by bigotry, on the contrary. Zoabi is a racist bigot who does not believe in the 2-state solution, but instead supports terrorism against Israeli Jews and the destruction of the Jewish State. Ignoring both the Arab- and Jewish-Zoabis is damaging- and will continue to damage Israel. I hope the High Court sees it as I do. But I will be fine with whatever the Court decides, will you?

            Reply to Comment
    4. Bar

      The Committee ruled that not just an Arab may not run, it also ruled that a Jew may not run. Not a peep from Adalah. Why? Well, there are three possibilities. 1. They’re bigots. 2. They have a political agenda involving only Arab Israelis. 3. Both 1 and 2.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        It might of course be that it is because Adalah is the “Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel”. Perhaps it feels that with limited resources it should focus on its core mission, especially when there numerous very well funded NGOs and indeed an entire state establishment dedicated to maintaining the rights of the majority population. Strange world we live in, but unfortunately the World Zionist Agency, the Jewish Agency, AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations seem to have more important tasks to deal with than campaigning for the rights of non-Jewish refugees, but I would not go so far as to say they were therefore (1) bigots or (2) had a political agenda or (3) both of these. Any other stupid claims you would like to make?

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          I stopped reading after the first sentence.

          Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            As you usually do if something makes too much sense.

            Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            All politics aside, are you really going to argue that posts by Mr. Stinkfinger form the UK make any sense?

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            That a non-rpofit NGO focuses on its core mission doesn’t make sense?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            What an empty-headed (or brain-washed) idiot you are then. You present an opinion on an open forum, and then when you are challenged on your argument you concede that you are unable to defend your point of view.

            Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        No. That you see only these three possibilities reveals the limitations of your vision.

        See:

        http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.642490

        And:

        http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.642844

        “…With regard to Marzel, the court had in the past rejected a petition against a decision to allow him to run, and one assumes that his disqualification this time around will also be overturned. All’s well that ends well?

        Not exactly, since there is a substantive problem with the grounds on which Arab representatives are being disqualified. In contrast to the banning of an anti-democratic party, disqualifying a party that opposes defining the state as Jewish is not legitimate, since we are not talking about a “democracy defending itself” but about blocking the option of having a political debate about the state’s character. Disqualification on grounds of supporting the armed struggle of a terror group or an enemy state against Israel sounds convincing on paper, but in practice it acts to restrict the ability of Arab MKs to express support for the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, while it does not allow the banning of someone who supports terror against Arabs.

        That the Supreme Court overturns these disqualifications is important, but it doesn’t protect the Arab representatives from being repeatedly humiliated in the Central Elections Committee and before the court. Moreover, the constant threat of disqualification hovering over their heads creates a chilling effect that restricts their freedom of political action.

        Although the elections committee this time also disqualified Marzel, from the time of the banning of the Kach party and its satellites in the late 1980s and early 1990s it has disqualified only Arab MKs. But if the grounds for disqualification are the clauses about denying the democratic nature of the state and incitement to racism, why doesn’t it ban Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu and other candidates who support continuing the occupation regime, which fundamentally undermines democracy and empties it of content?…”

        Reply to Comment
    5. C.C. DeVille

      Poor Brian. The editors of 972 used a rather hideous photo of his beloved beard

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        You constantly denigrate the perceived physical appearance of your political opponents (e.g. Haneen Zoabi and Brian), so tell me CCDV – have you had breast enlargement therapy – because you seem like a big tit to me?

        Reply to Comment
        • C.C. DeVille

          Rachel Corrie used to be a piece of ass. After the incident, she became several pieces of ass.

          Reply to Comment
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