Israel Elections: High Court to rule on fate of Arab Knesset faction

The High Court for years has routinely rejected these kinds of petitions as presenting some disturbing evidence against the party.

HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE President Esther Hayut hears a petition at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE President Esther Hayut hears a petition at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

The High Court of Justice on Thursday heard the petition of the Arab-Israeli Balad Party to be reinstated for the upcoming November 1 election after the Central Elections Committee disqualified it on September 29.

For years, the High Court routinely rejected such petitions, arguing they claim to present disturbing evidence against the party but always fail to meet the “critical mass” of evidence required for full disqualification.

The two grounds are if a party or candidate supports an armed struggle against Israel or concretely undermines the state’s Jewish character.

In a recent round in 2020, the High Court voted 5-4 to allow Balad MK Hila Yazbek to run for office, but the court’s membership has moved further to the Right since then.

 Supreme Court Chief of Justice Ester Hayut with Supreme Court judge George Karra and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for outgoign Supreme Court judge George Karra, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Supreme Court Chief of Justice Ester Hayut with Supreme Court judge George Karra and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for outgoign Supreme Court judge George Karra, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Liberal Justices Uzi Vogelman, Daphna Barak-Erez, Anat Baron and Ofer Grosskopf would be expected to vote to allow Balad to run just as Vogelman, Baraz-Erez and Baron did with Yazbek in 2020.

In contrast, conservative justices Noam Sohlberg, David Mintz, Yosef Elron and Yael Wilner would be more likely to uphold the disqualification, as Sohlberg, Mintz and Elron did with Yazbek.

High Court chief is the swing vote

In that case, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut would be the swing vote, as she is generally a moderate liberal but voted in the minority to disqualify Yazbek in 2020.

This time, if she voted to disqualify, that might make a majority.

However, Hayut’s questions on Thursday seemed to suggest she was leaning toward reinstating Balad.

In fact, Hayut suggested that because Balad has not tried to re-propose a 2018 basic law, which would have altered the country’s Jewish character to a nondenominational democracy, for four years, the record against it now is weaker than it was in 2018.

Hayut’s point seemed to echo a point made by state’s lawyer Eitan Udi, who said the absence of Balad pushing to end the state’s Jewishness for the last four years was more important than that it split from some other more moderate Arab-Israeli parties.

Earlier, Wilner had pressed Udi to explain how the attorney-general could support Balad running when there were previous statements by top lawyers and judges that it was only being allowed to run because it joined with other more moderate Arab-Israeli parties.

Balad split from the Joint List during the current election season.

Hayut and Baron repeatedly denigrated the evidence that was compiled against Balad as being a party that endangers Israel’s Jewishness as weak as and weaker than earlier such attempts to disqualify the party, which had failed.

Sohlberg and Elron seemed more disturbed by Balad’s party platform, which can be read as challenging Israel’s Jewishness, and by some other statements of Balad Party members.

Adalah lawyer Hassan Jabareen said much of the evidence that those wanting to disqualify Balad were bringing before the High Court was not even brought before the Central Elections Committee and, as such, was irrelevant and could not be presented.

A final decision will be published by Sunday, since that is the deadline for any disqualification questions to be resolved.