MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) and Yahad candidate Baruch Marzel cannot run for seats in the next Knesset, the Central Elections Committee voted Thursday.
However, such disqualifications are brought automatically to the High Court of Justice, which has ruled overwhelmingly against similar cases – including those of both Zoabi and Marzel – in past elections.
According to Basic Law, Knesset candidates or lists may not run for seats if they reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or incite to racism or armed conflict against the country.
Zoabi’s ban passed with 27 Central Elections Committee members in favor from Shas, UTJ, the Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Yesh Atid, Labor and Hatnua (the Zionist Union) and six opposed from UAL, Ta’al, Balad, Hadash and Meretz. Committee chairman Justice Salim Joubran abstained.
Though the Zionist Union said it would follow Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein’s directives, they voted against the opinion he gave on Wednesday, which is that both candidates should not be disqualified.
Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Gal presented his party’s petition to ban Zoabi from running, pointing out that he was the journalist who interviewed her when she said the kidnapping of three teens in Gush Etzion last summer was not an act of terrorism.
“Zoabi crossed every line. She supports terrorism in words and in actions, when she joined the [2010 Gaza] flotilla on the Mavi Marmara,” he said. “The time has come to relay a clear message to those who support terrorism: They cannot test the borders of freedom of expression and cannot raise a hand against IDF soldiers.”
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MK Yariv Levin (Likud) cited Zoabi’s “amazing accumulation of activity supporting terrorism, including writing an article on the Hamas website during Operation Protective Edge, meeting with [former Balad chairman and fugitive] Azmi Bishara at that time, participating in illegal demonstrations and rejecting Israel as Jewish and democratic.”
“Don’t play dumb or try to manipulate the facts. She refused to apologize for what she said about the three teens or for threatening [Yisrael Beytenu candidate and activist for Christian Arabs’ enlistment in the IDF] Shadi Haloul,” Levin added.
Zoabi’s speech was peppered with interruptions from committee members and other politicians.
“I don’t really understand why I’m here,” she chuckled at the opening of her remarks.
“Me neither,” Gal shouted. “You belong in jail!” Marzel’s attorney and spokesman, Itamar Ben-Gvir interjected “She’s a terrorist, she should be arrested!” as Joubran banged his gavel.
According to Zoabi, the debate was about whether she can “identify with my Palestinian nation, oppose the occupation and still demand equal citizenship.”
“The people who support disqualifying me are people who have no problem with the killing of Palestinian civilians... what bothers them is that I act as a Palestinian and fight as a Palestinian, from within the Knesset, for equality,” she added. “I will not take back any principled stance or actions I took against the occupation and injustice.”
Though the law states that a candidate may not oppose Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Zoabi said, “We don’t think a Jewish state can be democratic.
“We will fight your racist policies and we will put the fascist, chauvinist mentality under siege,” she said.
The High Court would “have its say,” on the decision, she said following the vote, adding, “I did not have high expectations that most of the members of the Elections Committee would follow the fundamental rules of democracy that they are bound by. This is a political committee in a Knesset that has a majority of right-wingers and racists.
“There is no legitimate, legal basis to disqualify me, as was made clear by the attorney-general and previous High Court decisions on attempts to unseat me as a representative of the Arab public,” she said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the outcome of the vote, saying Zoabi not belonging in the Knesset is as clear as the fact that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West and Monday comes after Sunday.
“Zoabi doesn’t even belong in the Palestinian Authority, rather she should be with the Hamas terrorists in Gaza,” he added, expressing hope that the High Court would not overturn the decision and “will not allow a supporter of terrorists on the Marmara to run in an election for the Knesset of the Jewish state.”
The discussion of Marzel’s eligibility as a candidate went much more quickly and peacefully with far fewer interruptions.
The Task Force Against Racism, which initiated the petition against Marzel, pointed out that he is a former member of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, which was outlawed on grounds of racism, adding that Marzel has never expressed regret for it and continues to follow Kahane’s path.
“If in the 25 years since laws against racism in politics passed, which were partly against me, I was never convicted, then I am kosher,” Marzel quipped.
“I fight and will continue to fight our enemies. Most of our enemies are Arabs, but some are Jews,” he said. “I work for the people of Israel and the Torah of Israel, and the comparison [to Zoabi] is inappropriate.”
Marzel vowed that he would continue speaking out without fear.
Ben-Gvir insisted that Marzel is not a racist because “he doesn’t differentiate between Jews and Arabs – he shouts at whoever is against the country.”
The attorney defended Marzel against claims that his statement “the infiltrator problem is like a cancer,” in reference to African migrants was racist, by saying Marzel never said their race is what makes them like a cancer.
Shas representative Yehuda Avidan dedicated his time on the stand to saying that Yahad, whose leader MK Eli Yishai broke off from Shas, is desecrating the name of deceased Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
However, the party voted against banning Marzel.
Uri Zaki, Meretz’s representative, made similar comments, specifically that Yosef would be ashamed that his disciple is supporting racism; he voted in favor of Marzel’s disqualification.
In addition to Meretz, the parties that voted to ban Marzel from running were UAL , Ta’al, Balad, Hadash, Labor, Hatnua and Yesh Atid. Shas, UTJ , the Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu were opposed.
Marzel’s disqualification passed with a one-vote margin; 17-16.
As such, in an ironic turn, Marzel, who has repeatedly and vociferously expressed opposition to the High Court, including on Thursday, saying it was biased against Jews and in favor of Arabs, will need it to uphold his candidacy.
“We will not be deterred by Meretz’s hypocrisy or Hatnua’s censorship and the Left will not stand in our way,” Marzel said after the vote. “In the end, I will send flowers to whoever voted to disqualify me. There are no grounds [for the decision]. The petition against me is amateurish and is somewhere between slander and a lie.”
Ben-Gvir called the Left hypocritical for saying it was undemocratic to disqualify Zoabi but trying to remove Marzel from the race.
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