In a whirlwind of legal arguments, wrestling and threats to change the law to
make it easier to disqualify Knesset candidates, the High Court of Justice on
Thursday heard Balad MK Haneen Zoabi’s petition to be reinstated for the current
Zoabi was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee last
week, in a 19-9 vote, despite Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein recommending
that she be allowed to run. The committee approved the ban on the grounds that
Zoabi supported terrorism and rejected Israel as a Jewish and democratic
Seconds after she walked out of the Jerusalem courtroom at the
close of Thursday’s hearing, MK Michael Ben-Ari and his Strong Israel party
co-founder Itamar Ben- Gvir joined some 30 rightwing activists accosting and
trying to block Zoabi and her entourage from leaving the Supreme Court
Activists started yelling at Zoabi, and a number of them
physically engaged with security personnel trying to escort her out. Activists
began pushing the guards and Zoabi’s entourage, who pushed back in a
free-for-all that lasted more than 10 minutes.
Since it appeared
impossible for Zoabi to exit the building, she was smuggled into one of the
other courtrooms until the building’s main hall was cleared.
had met to hear the petition with a panel of nine justices, presided over by
Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis, and predictions suggested that the
court would strike down the committee’s decision.
It will announce its
decision by Sunday.
At the hearing and arguing that the court should
affirm Zoabi’s disqualification, attorney Dean Livneh said that the case was
“about the nature of our democracy, and not just about the particular law”
defining specific grounds for disqualifying candidates.
Will we be viewed
as a “strong democracy” or as a “naïve, weak, gullible democracy which can’t
tell its Knesset members and others that there are some things they can’t do?”
Livneh conjured the picture of the Weimar Republic falling
victim to the Nazi movement as a doomsday scenario for the falling apart of
Israeli democracy if persons undertaking activities that he characterized as
being against the state were not “kept out of the Knesset.”
He added that
in Zoabi’s democracy, Israel would eventually have to “celebrate Nakba” Day (the
day of the “catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to Israeli Independence Day) and
mark days for “remembering terrorists like Imad Mughniyeh, Ahmed Jabari” as well
as “changing street names from Herzl Boulevard to Arafat
Livneh also said that Zoabi’s presence on board the Mavi
Marmara in the May 2010 Gaza flotilla aided “Hamas in its armed conflict with
Arguing to reinstate Zoabi, attorney Hassan Jabareen told the
justices that court precedent is clear that disqualifying a candidate for
Knesset for involvement in “armed conflict” against Israel means physical armed
conflict, and not just happening to be present on a vessel where armed conflict
occurred with a small number of passengers.
He noted that no criminal
complaint were filed against Zoabi for her mere presence on the Marvi
He also said that the accusations against Zoabi had changed,
with her being accused of helping the Turkish group IHH before the Elections
Committee, and suddenly before the court being accused of helping
Jabareen disputed the entire issue of whether Zoabi was connected
with terrorists, because Hamas did not organize the flotilla, because both the
state comptroller’s and the Turkel Commission reports on the flotilla indicated
that not even Israeli intelligence knew about the IHH’s violent plan in advance,
and because Israel had not declared the IHH a terrorist group until earlier this
Regarding the allegation that Zoabi’s actions undermined Israel’s
blockade of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Jabareen said that under that argument, a
large swath of Israelis could be condemned simply for demonstrating or for
filing petitions against the blockade and its effects.
allegations that certain statements by Zoabi constituted incitement, Jabareen
said that the same argument could be used to accuse Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu of incitement when he recently said that if certain issues got worse,
they would lead to a third intifada.
The state representative reiterated
its support for Zoabi running, since what it called her disturbing behavior did
not meet the evidentiary standard for disqualification set by a High Court
decision in 2003.
The justices, who were unusually quiet, briefly got
into a debate with the state about whether it was significant that IHH had been
defined by the Defense Ministry as an illegal organization as early as 2008,
even though it was not declared a terrorist organization until four years
After the hearing and the altercation between the rightwing
activists, Zoabi’s entourage and court security, Ben-Ari made a fiery
“If they don’t disqualify Zoabi today, tomorrow she’ll throw a
bomb in the Knesset,” he said. “They need to throw them into
Shortly after exiting the courthouse through a side exit, Zoabi
also held a press conference, decrying the state of democracy in
“I never imagined such a thing could happen,” she said.
feel that there has been incitement against me throughout the current Knesset,
so there’s nothing new.”
She added that it was ironic that in a debate
about equality she was forced to leave through the back door for her
“Attempts to disqualify me are an attack on everybody who is
against the occupation,” Zoabi said.
Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalka,
who also spoke at the press conference, said they had been set upon by a “group
of fascists,” and blamed court security for the incident.
Earlier in the
day, Likud MK Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post that if the court allowed
Zoabi to run for the next Knesset, he had a “Plan B” prepared: amending the law
to prevent future runs.
Danon, who led the move to disqualify Zoabi, told
the Post that he believed he could win in the High Court, despite the fact that
it had never disqualified an Arab MK before.