Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday came out against efforts to bar MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) of the Joint List, and far-right activist Baruch Marzel of Yahad, from running for the next Knesset.
The Central Elections Committee will vote on all petitions to disqualify parties and candidates from running in a 13-hour session Thursday.
In addition to the votes on Zoabi and Marzel, the panel will vote on petitions to ban Yisrael Beytenu, the Zionist Union, the Joint List, Meretz and Green Leaf.
Weinstein responded to petitions pointing out that Marzel was spokesman for the now-illegal Kach organization led by Rabbi Meir Kahane, and stating that he incites to racism and rejects Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The attorney-general said there was insufficient evidence that Marzel said the things the petitioners accused him of, although should they come up with proof there would be serious doubts as to whether he could run.
As for Zoabi, Weinstein wrote that despite “hesitation” and some of her statements potentially having interpretations of supporting armed struggle against the state – which a candidate cannot do, according to Basic Law: Knesset – she had provided sufficient clarifications to make a case for disqualifying her inviable.
The attorney-general called disqualification a tool that was “an exception within an exception” in terms of how rarely it should be used, with the law clearly favoring letting voters decide what they think of candidates.
Weinstein also noted that even though he was not seeking Zoabi’s disqualification, he did not in any way endorse or approve her statements.
The Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, Yahad and, as of Wednesday, Yesh Atid support banning Zoabi on grounds of her alleged support for terrorism and rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
On Wednesday, Hassan Jabarin, Zaobi’s attorney from Adalah (Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel), submitted his response on the petitions to the Central Elections Committee.
“These are provocative and racist petitions that aim to highlight a racist discourse against the representatives and candidates of the Arab population only because of their nationality,” an Adalah spokesman said.
Jabarin wrote that not only were the quotes that the petitioners used to back their requests partial and distorted, none of them showed that Zoabi supported armed combat by a terrorist organization.
He said previous court rulings stated that candidates could be disqualified if they made repeated, clear statements in support of terrorism, not “random statements.”
The MK’s attorney brought an opinion by a linguist stating that Zoabi’s call for “grassroots resistance” in an article she wrote for a Hamas website meant “a civil, grassroots battle,” and that “this expression would not be understood by the Arab reader as support for any kind of armed conflict.”
Yesh Atid announced Wednesday that it would also join petitions to ban Marzel.
“Yesh Atid believes in Zionism, in the State of Israel and creating a bridge between groups in Israeli society,” a party spokesman said. “We oppose extremism on the Right or the Left, whose only goal is to inflame hatred and violent discourse in the Knesset.”
Zionist Union said at first that it favored banning both Zoabi and Marzel, the latter on grounds of incitement to racism. It then backtracked.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog explained in a video interview with The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Ma’ariv that the party was, on principle, waiting for the attorney-general’s opinion, but that he had also been against a ban on Zoabi as Labor’s representative to the Central Elections Committee before the last election.
Herzog denied that his not voting to ban Zoabi was a play to bring the Joint List into his coalition, should he be tasked with forming one, but added that the list’s tough talk about not joining any government was because “all the players have to go to their base to get the votes.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman criticized the Zionist Union for waffling, saying “a real Zionist doesn’t give in to threats from Arabs,” and doing so “is a continuation of the dangerous deterioration in which public institutions give in to Arab terrorism.”
Earlier Wednesday, the High Court of Justice pressed a petitioner to drop a case to disqualify Zoabi from the already dissolved Knesset, saying the petition had been made moot by the Knesset’s dissolution and by pending petitions to disqualify her as a candidate for the next Knesset.
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