Haneen Zoabi speaks at Central Elections Committee hearing to ban her from running for Knesset.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Albert Einstein was quoted as saying that one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As election season looms here again in Israel, our Central Election Committee (CEC) considered petitions to bar certain people from running in the upcoming elections. The committee accepted the petitions, banning Baruch Marzel and MK Haneen Zoabi.
Only a few days ago, we read about the burial of Adele Bitton, who at the age of four, and after a two-year battle, succumbed to the crippling injuries she sustained in a terrorist attack.
Insanely, her story was eclipsed by imagery of the smiling Marzel and Zoabi following the Supreme Court’s overruling of the CEC and reinstating them to their lists.
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In 1985, an amendment (7a) was made to the Basic Law: Knesset. According to this law, “A candidate’s list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: 1. Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; 2. Incitement to racism; 3. Support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”
Under this amendment, in the 1988 elections the CEC barred Kach (Rabbi Kahane’s list) and the Progressive List for Peace (PLP) from running.
The Supreme Court overturned the PLP ban, but upheld the ban on Kach.
In preparation for the 2003 elections, the CEC banned the Balad and Ta’al lists from running.
Both petitions to the committee had specifically requested that Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara be banned. The Supreme Court overturned the rulings of the CEC and both parties ran.
Bishara served as an MK until being found in a police probe to have aided Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War (2006); he fled the country days before an indictment for treason was to be served.
Prior to the 2009 elections, both Balad and the United Arab List were disqualified and once again the Supreme Court overruled the committee, repudiating the ban. This theme was repeated in 2013. Now, once again, the Supreme Court has overruled the CEC by reinstating Zoabi and Marzel to their lists.
If this same conclusion has been reached every time (other than with Kach in 1998), whereby the CEC tries to bar a list or person and the Supreme Court overrules the decision, have we reached a point where this a simply a populist action, totally ineffective and bordering on insanity? If we take a look at what occurs in other democratic countries, the concept of barring candidates is not very popular and in most cases, is not used. This may not only be because it is an ineffective way of dealing with the problem, it could be because other countries have a better way to achieve the same goal – via an Oath of Office.
I grew up in the UK, with the threat of terrorism from the IRA. Sinn Fein, the diplomatic arm of the IRA, was allowed to run in UK elections and even garnered some seats, but never sat in the House of Commons. This was due to the fact that to sit in the UK Parliament one has to swear allegiance to the queen. Thus, the UK’s Oath of Allegiance effectively restricted anti-UK voices from the UK Parliament.
In the US, an Oath of Office is made by all federal employees. All members of Congress at the beginning of each new term have to say, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
So help me God.”
In Australia, a similar oath is made on entering parliament, as is the case with at least 20 other countries. Israel also has an oath of office whereby each MK has to make a pledge when entering a new Knesset term as follows: “I pledge myself to bear allegiance to the State of Israel and to faithfully discharge my mandate in the Knesset.”
As a country that does not have a constitution, but rather a set of “basic laws,” the test of allegiance to the State of Israel is not clear. One would assume that allegiance to the State of Israel would include allegiance to its basic laws, however, it is doubtful that all MKs support the basic law in Chapter 1 which reads, “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel,” not to mention the Land Law which enshrines state land and JNF land is unsalable and non-transferable.
So, instead of this insane pre-election practice of disqualifying candidates and lists, where the Supreme Court then overturns the CEC’s decision, perhaps a more robust oath of office is needed. Maybe this oath should include a term like “in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence” or be more specific and reference some of the basic concepts found in our Declaration of Independence, such as the concept of “A Jewish state in the Land of Israel” and “The State of Israel open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.”
Such a robust oath would enable the elected official to decide if he or she can in good conscience sit in the Knesset, based on these basic tenets that define the State of Israel. This would better ensure that elected MKs who have anti-Israel “tendencies” are not able to take their seat and work from within the Knesset to undermine our state.
The author is a graduate of Leeds University, specializing in research methods in Computer Science.