MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) and Yahad candidate Baruch Marzel fought before the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to overturn their recent disqualifications from the upcoming election.
“This is a political crusade,” Zoabi told a press conference before the hearing, adding, “I am against the occupation of my people and will oppose it.”
She claimed that the whole disqualification process was a pretext to silence her political views, not due to any real evidence of inciting violence.
Zoabi was recently disqualified from running for the Knesset by an overwhelming majority vote of the Central Elections Committee. However, just prior to the 2013 election, the High Court voted 9-0 to overturn a similar large majority decision by the same committee, and most predictions are it will do the same this time.
On the other side, MK Yariv Levin (Likud), a member of the committee, said that the case is a test for the High Court.
“After Zoabi was disqualified by a large majority that crossed party lines, any decision that would allow her to run for another term would be a total distortion of the law,” Levin said. “The High Court justices must shake off its self-righteous attitude that disqualifying Zoabi harms democracy, and stop her aiding terrorism from within our house of representatives.”
MK Danny Danon (Likud) expressed certainty that the High Court would uphold Zoabi’s ban and act to prevent a repeat of the incident in which Balad founder and former MK Azmi Bishara fled the country in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War.
“It is unthinkable that someone who blatantly tramples the symbols and institutions of the state and cynically uses freedom of expression to promote terrorist organizations can be an MK,” he added.
Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Gal also said he is sure the court will authorize the disqualification and say that Zoabi crossed every redline.
“In light of her extreme, sharp statements, this will be a clear message to all supporters of terrorism and collaborators with terrorism and inciters that they should no longer test the limits of freedom of expression,” he stated.
The High Court hearing on Zoabi’s disqualification itself revolved around differing interpretations of the disqualification provision of the elections law, which is limited to cases where there is clear proof of supporting armed conflict against the state.
Top Israeli-Arab lawyer Hassan Jabareen of the Adalah NGO told the court that the fact that “there is a large consensus in the Knesset to disqualify Zoabi” is irrelevant.
He urged it to follow its prior decisions on Israeli-Arab MKs, including one where it overturned a 28-6 disqualification vote.
Jabareen said this result is dictated by the law and because there is a non-legal “consensus against Arab politics in Israel.”
He continued that all of the six statements attributed to Zoabi allegedly proving she should be disqualified “fall apart” once “facts are checked,” the quotes are put in context, and Zoabi’s consistent opposition to violence is taken into account.
He added that the court’s recent ruling against Zoabi regarding a finite suspension by the Knesset on ethics issues had no bearing on the disqualification debate, since the law to disqualify is much stricter and harder to invoke.
The state described Zoabi’s conduct as “very troubling,” but said that in principle it agrees with Jabareen’s argument that there is no legal basis to disqualify her.
It added that the court disqualifies only “in the most exceptional of exceptional circumstances.”
Though the court is expected to reinstate Zoabi, Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein appeared incensed at some of Zoabi’s statements, pressing the state repeatedly to give an example that would cross the line and justify disqualification.
Justice Hanan Melcer also drew attention to Zoabi’s visit to Qatar during the recent summer war, though Jabareen retorted that Qatar is not defined as an enemy state and conducts trade with Israel.
In a sudden and surprising spin-off from the hearing, Jabareen revealed that Zoabi is likely to close a plea bargain with the state on a charge of inciting against an Arab police officer in a Nazareth court a few months ago.
Jabareen said that Zoabi would likely receive a sentence of no more than community service.
The state did not confirm the deal, but there is a meeting scheduled with Jabareen on the issue for Wednesday.
The back-and-forth occurred as Jabareen defended Zoabi from disqualification, despite her being on the verge of an indictment, by arguing that the incident is so low level that it has no relation to inciting armed conflict against the state.
Representing Avigdor Liberman and other Yisrael Beytenu members, attorney Yoav Mani said, “I don’t care what she thinks, I only care about what she says” and the impact it could have in legitimizing and inciting others to violence.
He added that the court had gone too far in making a “critical mass” standard of evidence for disqualification into an unachievable standard, and asked, “When do you decide enough is enough?” Next, he stated, “Don’t say I’m against Zoabi’s views because of what she’ll do – say you’re against them because her views are against who we are!” Though the disqualification of Yahad candidate and long-time hard-right political activist Marzel has had a slightly lower profile than the Zoabi battle, it has also fueled high emotions and took center stage at the High Court following her hearing.
Marzel’s attorney, activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, said that the anti-Arab statements attributed to him are inaccurate, out of context, and that in some cases were forgeries.
“Even if Marzel said ‘Kahane was right,’ that would not even be close to violating the election law standard for disqualification, Ben-Gvir said.
The attorney emphasized that Marzel had changed a lot over the years, despite his earlier membership and leadership positions in the banned Kach movement.
Justice Yitzhak Amit pressed Marzel the most on anti-Arab statements he allegedly made following a recent attack on a coexistence school in Jerusalem.
But Ben-Gvir said that Marzel’s statements there were just an expression of not believing coexistence is still viable, not a statement of being anti-Arab.
In contrast, the elections committee lawyer said Marzel is “the exception within the exception” that the disqualification rule was meant to apply to.
She said that while Marzel “says he has changed, his statements show otherwise.
He wants to expel all Israeli Arabs” and supports terrorism against Arabs. “That’s what ‘Kahane was right’ means.”
Rubinstein again pressed the state, saying it does not seem like Marzel has changed and asking, “If it walks and talks like a duck, why isn’t it a duck?” The court is expected to decide both petitions very soon, possibly even Wednesday, in light of the impending election.•