(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a decision to disqualify two Arab parties from running for the Knesset.
The decision was met with derision by right-wing leaders, who had originally tabled the motion to disqualify Balad and the United Arab List.
"Aharon Barak said that democracy doesn't have to kill itself in order to prove its strength. The court threw that statement in to the trash today, and gave the Arab parties a license to kill Israel as a Jewish and democratic state," Israel Beiteinu Chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman said following the court's decision. "We will not give up. In the next Knesset we will pass the Citizenship Law, which will put a border on the disloyalty of some of the Israeli Arabs," he added.
Lieberman led the MKs who had called on the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Balad and the United Arab List on the grounds that two parties "support an armed struggle against Israel and that their political platform aims to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state." Lieberman, whose campaign slogan is "no loyalty, no citizenship," emerged victorious when the Central Elections Committee voted in favor of the parties' disqualification last week, but within hours of the vote, MK Ahmed Tibi promised that the decision would be appealed.
Ultimately two appeals - both submitted by the Israeli-Arab rights group Adalah - were filed earlier this week. Adalah claimed that the decision to disqualify Balad and UAL was a violation of their rights and ignored the opinion of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that there was no concrete proof to support the prevention of the two lists from running for the Knesset.
Adalah attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Orna Kohn argued that "although the CEC is a semi-judicial body and despite the fact that the right to be elected is a basic constitutional right, the CEC failed to discuss the motions filed to disqualify the two parties with due diligence" and that "the considerations that led to the disqualifications were racist, not legal".
The court had until Thursday to deliver its opinion, but made a decision a day early. The decision had been expected in view of a similar case brought before the Supreme Court in 2003 when then-Herut MK Michael Kleiner led a similar Central Elections Committee move to disqualify Balad on the grounds that it "supports terror organizations, identifies with the enemy and acts against Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." The ensuing appeal to the court set the precedent for Wednesday's ruling, which was delivered in a terse single sentence, overturning the CEC decision without offering any explanation.
The nine Supreme Court justices unanimously accepted the UAL appeal, while the Balad appeal was accepted by eight justices against one, a nod to the questionable history of Balad, whose former chairman Azmi Bashara fled Israel as police were investigating him for suspicions of treason.
"Balad stands by its platform. The court's decision is a victory to the Arab public and to anyone who seeks democracy," said Balad MK Jamal Zahalkeh after the court delivered its ruling.