Strong Israel, Balad find common cause in court

Parties join forces to fight Central Elections Committee's decision to ban certain of each parties' campaign broadcasts.

Eldad and Ben Ari introduce Strong Israel party 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Eldad and Ben Ari introduce Strong Israel party 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Strong Israel’s Itamar Ben- Gvir and Balad’s attorney Hassan Jabareen sat side by side on Monday in an unusual hearing before the High Court of Justice.
The hearing challenges Central Elections Committee chariman, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein’s decision to ban certain of each parties’ election campaign broadcasts.
Only a few weeks ago, the two sides were in a dramatic legal and physical confrontation before the same court where Ben-Gvir tried to help disqualify Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, and Zoabi fought successfully for her right to run.
But on Monday, all extremes of the political spectrum from the Israeli-Arab parties to the hard-right were united to defend what they called Rubinstein’s over-reach in striking down their rights to free speech.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s head lawyer Dan Yakir also made a forceful presentation for both sides and against censorship of free speech.
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The court was expected to issue a decision as early as late Monday night or Tuesday.
Strong Israel had aired a broadcast with the slogan “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators,” referring to its positions to marginalize the identity of the state’s non- Jewish inhabitants and to push for policies discouraging African migrants from staying in the country.
Balad, in contrast, had parodied the “Hatikva” national anthem to the melody of an Arabic pop song.
The juxtaposition of banning messages from parties on the opposite extremes of the spectrum, and which messages were attacking the other side or its core values was noteworthy, as well as ACRI’s protest for both sides.
ACRI more often than not fights for causes associated with more left-wing politics, although it is not formally associated with any party.
According to ACRI, under Israeli elections law, during the two weeks preceding the elections, each of the political parties is given access to public radio and television airwaves at designated times to air their political message in a short broadcast.
Much of the proceeding revolved around the justices and the lawyers arguing over how past precedents applied or did not apply to the current dispute.
The judges asked tough questions to both sides, although the lawyers seeking to overturn the ban did most of the talking.
Regarding the Strong Israel broadcast, the election committee announced that the words “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators” must be struck from the radio broadcast.
Justice Rubinstein also said that he is considering disallowing the expressions “no rights without obligations,” and “without the fulfillment of these obligations, rights cannot be demanded.” The decision to disallow parts of the campaign broadcast was taken with the party’s agreement, but without a legal explanation, said ACRI.
Regarding the Balad broadcast which appeared to parody “Hatikva,” the spot was disqualified in full.
Justice Rubinstein noted that the radio spot presented the national anthem in a distorted and ridiculing manner, and stated that “contempt of the symbols of the state, the Jewish and democratic state, is not acceptable to me.” While this was a more detailed explanation, it was still unclear to what extent the decision was a legal versus a values determination.
Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI chief legal counsel, said about the ban, “Freedom of expression includes the right to broadcast satire and provocative statements.” He added, “This is especially important when it comes to election campaign broadcasts, which are intended to help citizens decide for whom to vote. The decision to disallow parts of the broadcasts was not founded on the tests for the limitation of freedom of expression established by the Supreme Court, and therefore has no legal basis.”
“While radio and television are no longer the exclusive channels for a political campaign’s public exposure (and it is safe to assume that the disqualifications will only increase the visibility of these messages), when a Supreme Court Justice harms the freedom of expression without valid justification, it creates a dangerous precedent,” said Yakir.
Last month Justice Rubinstein disqualified Strong Israel’s billboard campaign, a decision that ACRI also opposed.
Regarding the election commission’s disqualification of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, eventually overturned by the High Court of Justice, Rubinstein had abstained.