Balad banned from running in election, Central Election Committee rules

Two Arab parties had faced appeals on grounds for "supporting terror" and reportedly opposing Israel's definition as a Jewish state.

 Director of the Elections Committee of the Knesset, Orly Adas, Yitzhak Amit, Chairman of the Election Committee and Attorney Ilan Bombach, Vice Chairman of the Election Committee discuss the disqualification of Balad and Ra'am on September 22, 2022 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Director of the Elections Committee of the Knesset, Orly Adas, Yitzhak Amit, Chairman of the Election Committee and Attorney Ilan Bombach, Vice Chairman of the Election Committee discuss the disqualification of Balad and Ra'am on September 22, 2022 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Central Election Committee voted on Thursday to disqualify the Arab-Israeli Balad Party from running in the upcoming election, on the grounds that it opposed Israel’s definition as a Jewish state.

Ra’am, which was part of the outgoing Knesset’s coalition, also faced a similar appeal, but was given the green light to run.

Israeli law stipulates that a candidate list or individual may not participate in elections to the Knesset if its actions or platform include “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism; support for armed struggle by a hostile state or by a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.”

However, the decision to disqualify Balad is likely to be overturned in the High Court of Justice, which overturned a similar decision against the party in 2019. The debate and vote were therefore mostly declarative and will most likely not affect the actual election.

The vote on Ra’am passed 14-0, with representatives of Likud, Religious Zionist Party, Yesh Atid, Labor, United Torah Judaism and Shas not present. The appeal against Balad, which was filed by a little-known political party called called “Anachnu–Together for a New Social Order,” passed 9-5, with representatives of Yisrael Beytenu, Blue and White, New Hope, Derech Eretz, Yamina and National Unity voting in favor of blocking the party, and the representatives of Ra’am, the Joint List and Meretz voting against.

 Meirav Hagag mother of  Cadet Shir Hagag Shir who was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem speeks in front the Election committee in favor to the disqualification of Balad and Ra'am on September 22, 2022 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Meirav Hagag mother of Cadet Shir Hagag Shir who was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem speeks in front the Election committee in favor to the disqualification of Balad and Ra'am on September 22, 2022 at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Central Election Committee is headed by High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit but composed of representatives from all of the outgoing Knesset’s political parties. Derech Eretz broke away from New Hope, and “National Unity” in the outgoing Knesset is the name MKs Matan Kahana and Shirly Pinto chose for themselves after breaking away from Yamina, and joining the party with the same name for the upcoming election. The two are therefore represented independently in the committee.

The responses to the disqualification 

“The attempt this time to disqualify Balad is an attempt by [Defense Minister Benny] Gantz and [Prime Minister Yair] Lapid to configure Arab leadership according to their political needs,” Balad chairman MK Sami Abou Shahadeh said during the discussion.

“Just like Balad came out strengthened in the past from the attempts to disqualify it and the attempts to push the ‘State of All its Citizens’ platform into the corner, it will not work for them this time either.

“The Arab public will choose leadership that spearheads the [fight] against racism and against the occupation, and in favor of a ‘State for All its Citizens’ and full equality,” Abou Shahadeh said.

"The Arab public will choose leadership that spearheads the [fight] against racism and against the occupation, and in favor of a 'State for All its Citizens' and full equality,"

Sami Abou Shahadeh

Hadash-Ta’al also criticized the decision.

“The decision to disqualify Balad is a miserable decision. Gantz, Lapid and [Labor leader Merav] Michaeli proved that they are right-wing in costume. Despite the racists who want to distance Arabs from the voting booths, on election day we will all flock to the vote,” the party said.

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, a member of the committee representing his Derech Eretz faction, said during the discussion, “While I was fighting in the Second Lebanon War, the founder of the party [Balad] and a serving Knesset member, Azmi Bishara, spied for Hezbollah, compromised the security of the country and fled to Qatar. The current chairman calls for the prime minister and the previous Prime Ministers to be prosecuted at the Hague [International Criminal Court] for thwarting terrorism in Judea and Samaria.”

Hendel criticized the parties who boycotted the vote.

“I can’t understand how Zionist parties that have been sitting here in this building talked for a year [about the Arab parties] as supporters of terrorism, but when they have a strategic opportunity to change the presence of those extremist elements in the Israeli electoral system in the long term, they choose to take a step back out of egoistic, political, specific considerations,” he said.

The Religious Zionist Party explained its absence from the votes after the fact. “The High Court became a political player who did and is doing everything to harm the Right, and continue the rule of the Left and the Arabs. We will bring the real change after the elections. We will outlaw the Arab parties supporting terrorism and put an end to the High Court’s rule,” it concluded.

While each party gave its own reasons for boycotting the vote, politics were also widely regarded as being a factor. Following the split between Balad and Hadash-Ta’al on September 15, Balad currently is not close to passing the 3.25% election threshold. The party is affiliated with the anti-Netanyahu camp, and therefore the Likud and other opposition parties prefer that it runs in order for it to waste votes. Opposing the appeal against Balad would have been too brazen, and instead their representatives did not attend.

Similarly, current coalition parties such as Labor and Yesh Atid had an interest that Balad not run – and also did not appear at the vote, so as not to oppose the appeal. National Unity announced at the last minute that it supported the appeal.

The appeals against Ra’am, which represents the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, were submitted by the “Choosing Life-Forum of Bereaved Families” and the nonprofit organization “Ad Kan-Young People for Israel”.

In a rare occurrence, Election Committee head High Court Judge Yitzhak Amit allowed Merav Hajaj, a member of the Forum of Bereaved Families to speak. Merav Hajaj is the mother of Shir Hajaj, who was killed in a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem in 2016. Hajaj also protested the vote as it was taking place and was escorted out of the room.

Following the vote, another bereaved mother, Dvorah Gonen, berated the representative of the Likud, lawyer Ilan Bombach, as well as other members who did not vote, for not doing enough to oppose the vote. Gonen is also number 22 on the Religious Zionist Party list, which also boycotted the vote.

“We are disappointed that once again politics defeated morality, lies defeated truth, and the supporters of terrorism will continue to serve in the Israeli Knesset,” the forum said in a statement in response to the decision.

“The evidence we have brought is unequivocal and unambiguous. Ra’am is a supporter of terrorism, and actively works for this from their seats in the Israeli Knesset.

“We regret that due to narrow political considerations, the right-wing parties decided to boycott the vote, and abstaining is also a very dangerous statement,” the forum said.

A lawyer representing Ra’am argued during the discussion that it was absurd to argue that the party that championed integration of Israeli Arabs was acting against the country.

“There are forces that are trying to damage this Jewish-Arab partnership. The attempt to prove that we are a party that supports terror should not be considered research,” the lawyer said.