(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Two Arab political parties that were disqualified on Monday from running in February's elections plan to file an appeal with the High Court of Justice on Sunday, representatives of the parties said Tuesday.
Balad and United Arab List-Ta'al were disqualified by the Knesset central elections committee after petitions filed last week claimed that their political platform aimed to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state and that the party was supporting armed struggle against Israel.
"We say there is no legal basis for [Monday's] decision to disqualify UAL-Ta'al, and I hope that the High Court of Justice will cancel the decision for UAL-Ta'al and Balad," said UAL-Ta'al chairman Ahmed Tibi.
"We are opposed to war, we are opposed to violence, but we are also opposed to the occupation and we want the occupation to end so that a Palestinian state will be established next to the State of Israel," he said.
The National Union Party, Israel Beiteinu and Itay Forman, formerly of Shinui, filed three petitions with the committee last week to disqualify Balad. Israel Beiteinu later filed a petition against UAL-Ta'al for the same reasons.
In 2003, the committee disqualified both Tibi, who was still with UAL-Ta'al, and the Balad party, from participating in parliamentary elections that year, but the High Court of Justice canceled those decisions.
Hassan Jabareen, director-general of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which will be submitting the petition on behalf of the Arab parties, said the parties' agenda was democratic and therefore legitimate.
"Until now, there is no country in the world, democratic or non-democratic, that says that if you have a democratic platform that argues for equality, that you are not allowed to participate in the elections," he said.
Once the appeal is submitted, the court is required to make its decision by January 22, Jabareen said.
Jabareen said he felt the committee had been influenced by right-wing politicians who helped to "create a racist climate." Israel's current war in Gaza, he said, only added to this climate.
"We agree with the attorney-general, who says there is no serious evidence to disqualify the Arab political lists," he added. "We hope that the court will accept at least the position of the attorney-general."
He also warned that most Arab voters would probably boycott the elections if the decision were not overturned by the court.
Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa: Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, said his center was not surprised by the election committee's decision.
It is part of a "fascist atmosphere that exists in the media and in political partiesâ€¦ that is excluding the Arab community in Israel," he said. "It's the same atmosphere that is enabling the IDF to commit crimes against civilians in Gazaâ€¦ It's an ongoing process of delegitimization of the Arab community in Israel."
Farah added that it was unfortunate that "once again the Supreme Court will be the one to protect what remains of Israeli democracy."
He said, however, that it was possible that the decision would motivate Israeli Arab leaders to call on their communities to go out and vote in the elections, to ensure that the parties that sponsored the petitions would not gain more votes.
They will vote "to challenge the disqualification and to challenge the racist groups in Israel," he said. "At the end of the day, this whole decision may end in bigger support for Arab political parties."
Yousef Jabareen, director of the Nazareth-based Dirasat - Arab Center for Law and Policy and a lecturer of law at the University of Haifa, called the committee's decision "a gross violation of the basic right for freedom of expression and association."
The law that authorizes the central elections committee to disqualify parties is problematic and needs to be abolished, he said, because it allows the committee - which is political and made up of party representatives rather than professionals - to interfere with these rights.
"In a real democracy, there shouldn't be such a law that targets political platforms that are democratic by nature," he said. "Most parties call for full equality in Israel, which is a universal platformâ€¦ [The committee] is a non-democratic authority that disqualified democratic platforms, and this is the absurdity here."
Following the committee's decision on Monday, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said "the next step is to declare Balad illegal because it's a terror organization that seeks to hurt Israel."
An attorney representing Lieberman's party said that former Balad head Azmi Bishara, who fled the country under suspicion of spying for Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War, was still consulted regularly by party members.
Shelly Paz contributed to this report.