Court hears Zoabi petition to nix disqualification

Right-wing activists assault Balad MK in court building; Danon: If judges let her run for Knesset, we’ll change the law.

Haneen Zoabi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Haneen Zoabi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a whirlwind of legal arguments, wrestling and threats to change the law to make it easier to disqualify Knesset candidates, the High Court of Justice on Thursday heard Balad MK Haneen Zoabi’s petition to be reinstated for the current campaign.
Zoabi was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee last week, in a 19-9 vote, despite Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein recommending that she be allowed to run. The committee approved the ban on the grounds that Zoabi supported terrorism and rejected Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Seconds after she walked out of the Jerusalem courtroom at the close of Thursday’s hearing, MK Michael Ben-Ari and his Strong Israel party co-founder Itamar Ben- Gvir joined some 30 rightwing activists accosting and trying to block Zoabi and her entourage from leaving the Supreme Court building.
Activists started yelling at Zoabi, and a number of them physically engaged with security personnel trying to escort her out. Activists began pushing the guards and Zoabi’s entourage, who pushed back in a free-for-all that lasted more than 10 minutes.
Far-right activist ejected from court by security personnel
Far-right activist ejected from court by security personnel
Since it appeared impossible for Zoabi to exit the building, she was smuggled into one of the other courtrooms until the building’s main hall was cleared.
The court had met to hear the petition with a panel of nine justices, presided over by Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis, and predictions suggested that the court would strike down the committee’s decision.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
It will announce its decision by Sunday.
At the hearing and arguing that the court should affirm Zoabi’s disqualification, attorney Dean Livneh said that the case was “about the nature of our democracy, and not just about the particular law” defining specific grounds for disqualifying candidates.
Will we be viewed as a “strong democracy” or as a “naïve, weak, gullible democracy which can’t tell its Knesset members and others that there are some things they can’t do?” he asked.
Livneh conjured the picture of the Weimar Republic falling victim to the Nazi movement as a doomsday scenario for the falling apart of Israeli democracy if persons undertaking activities that he characterized as being against the state were not “kept out of the Knesset.”
He added that in Zoabi’s democracy, Israel would eventually have to “celebrate Nakba” Day (the day of the “catastrophe,” as Palestinians refer to Israeli Independence Day) and mark days for “remembering terrorists like Imad Mughniyeh, Ahmed Jabari” as well as “changing street names from Herzl Boulevard to Arafat Boulevard.”
Livneh also said that Zoabi’s presence on board the Mavi Marmara in the May 2010 Gaza flotilla aided “Hamas in its armed conflict with Israel.”
Arguing to reinstate Zoabi, attorney Hassan Jabareen told the justices that court precedent is clear that disqualifying a candidate for Knesset for involvement in “armed conflict” against Israel means physical armed conflict, and not just happening to be present on a vessel where armed conflict occurred with a small number of passengers.
He noted that no criminal complaint were filed against Zoabi for her mere presence on the Marvi Marmara.
He also said that the accusations against Zoabi had changed, with her being accused of helping the Turkish group IHH before the Elections Committee, and suddenly before the court being accused of helping Hamas.
Jabareen disputed the entire issue of whether Zoabi was connected with terrorists, because Hamas did not organize the flotilla, because both the state comptroller’s and the Turkel Commission reports on the flotilla indicated that not even Israeli intelligence knew about the IHH’s violent plan in advance, and because Israel had not declared the IHH a terrorist group until earlier this month.
Regarding the allegation that Zoabi’s actions undermined Israel’s blockade of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Jabareen said that under that argument, a large swath of Israelis could be condemned simply for demonstrating or for filing petitions against the blockade and its effects.
Regarding allegations that certain statements by Zoabi constituted incitement, Jabareen said that the same argument could be used to accuse Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of incitement when he recently said that if certain issues got worse, they would lead to a third intifada.
The state representative reiterated its support for Zoabi running, since what it called her disturbing behavior did not meet the evidentiary standard for disqualification set by a High Court decision in 2003.
The justices, who were unusually quiet, briefly got into a debate with the state about whether it was significant that IHH had been defined by the Defense Ministry as an illegal organization as early as 2008, even though it was not declared a terrorist organization until four years later.
After the hearing and the altercation between the rightwing activists, Zoabi’s entourage and court security, Ben-Ari made a fiery speech.
“If they don’t disqualify Zoabi today, tomorrow she’ll throw a bomb in the Knesset,” he said. “They need to throw them into Syria.”
Shortly after exiting the courthouse through a side exit, Zoabi also held a press conference, decrying the state of democracy in Israel.
“I never imagined such a thing could happen,” she said.
“I feel that there has been incitement against me throughout the current Knesset, so there’s nothing new.”
She added that it was ironic that in a debate about equality she was forced to leave through the back door for her safety.
“Attempts to disqualify me are an attack on everybody who is against the occupation,” Zoabi said.
Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalka, who also spoke at the press conference, said they had been set upon by a “group of fascists,” and blamed court security for the incident.
Earlier in the day, Likud MK Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post that if the court allowed Zoabi to run for the next Knesset, he had a “Plan B” prepared: amending the law to prevent future runs.
Danon, who led the move to disqualify Zoabi, told the Post that he believed he could win in the High Court, despite the fact that it had never disqualified an Arab MK before.