Balad, UAL appeal ban in High Court

Arab parties claim central elections c'tee violated rules of natural justice, ignored attorney-general.

tibi makhoul 248.88 (photo credit: )
tibi makhoul 248.88
(photo credit: )
Balad and United Arab List-Ta'al, the two Arab parties that were disqualified from running in February's elections, filed an appeal on Monday with the High Court of Justice. Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Orna Kohn of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, filed the appeal on behalf of the Arab parties, which stated that the central elections committee "violated the rules of natural justice and ignored [Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's] legal opinion, according to which there is no evidence to justify preventing the participation of the two lists in the Knesset elections." According to the 500-page petition, it was "extremely unreasonable" to demand that the parties' representatives show loyalty to Zionism. The appellants also claimed that the representatives who filed the disqualification request created an "extremist atmosphere, based on a differentiation between 'us and you'" that prevented a professional discussion in the committee meeting. "Some [committee members] even explicitly noted they voted in favor of disqualification despite knowing that there was no evidence to legally support it," said the petition. Balad and United Arab List-Ta'al were disqualified by the committee last Monday after petitions claimed that their political platform aimed to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state and that they supported an armed struggle against Israel. "We say there is no legal basis for [the] decision to disqualify UAL-Ta'al, and I hope that the High Court of Justice will cancel the decision for UAL-Ta'al and Balad," said UAL-Ta'al chairman MK Ahmed Tibi last week. "We are opposed to war, we are opposed to violence, but we are also opposed to the occupation and we want the occupation to end so that a Palestinian state will be established next to the State of Israel," he said. The National Union Party, Israel Beiteinu and Itay Forman, formerly of Shinui, filed three petitions with the committee some two weeks ago to disqualify Balad. Israel Beiteinu later filed a petition against UAL-Ta'al. In 2003, the committee disqualified both Tibi, who was still with UAL-Ta'al, and the Balad party, from participating in parliamentary elections that year, but the High Court of Justice canceled those decisions. Hassan Jabareen, director-general of Adalah, said last week the parties' agenda was democratic and therefore legitimate. "Until now, there is no country in the world, democratic or non-democratic, that says that if you have a democratic platform that argues for equality, that you are not allowed to participate in the elections," he said. Jabareen said he felt the committee had been influenced by right-wing politicians who helped to "create a racist climate." Israel's recent operation in Gaza, he said, only added to this climate. "We agree with the attorney-general, who says there is no serious evidence to disqualify the Arab political lists," he added. "We hope that the court will accept at least the position of the attorney-general." He also warned that most Arab voters would probably boycott the elections if the decision were not overturned by the court. Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa: Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, said last week his center was not surprised by the election committee's decision. It is part of a "fascist atmosphere that exists in the media and in political parties that is excluding the Arab community in Israel," he said. "It's the same atmosphere that is enabling the IDF to commit crimes against civilians in Gaza. It's an ongoing process of delegitimization of the Arab community in Israel." Farah added that it was unfortunate that "once again, the Supreme Court will be the one to protect what remains of Israeli democracy." He said, however, that it was possible that the decision would motivate Israeli Arab leaders to call on their communities to go out and vote in the elections, to ensure that the parties that sponsored the petitions would not gain more votes. They will vote "to challenge the disqualification and to challenge the racist groups in Israel," he said. "At the end of the day, this whole decision may end in bigger support for Arab political parties." Yousef Jabareen, director of the Nazareth-based Dirasat - Arab Center for Law and Policy and a lecturer of law at the University of Haifa, called the committee's decision "a gross violation of the basic right for freedom of expression and association." The law that authorizes the central elections committee to disqualify parties is problematic and needs to be abolished, he said, because it allows the committee - which is political and made up of party representatives rather than professionals - to interfere with these rights. "In a real democracy, there shouldn't be such a law that targets political platforms that are democratic by nature," he said. "Most parties call for full equality in Israel, which is a universal platform. [The committee] is a non-democratic authority that disqualified democratic platforms, and this is the absurdity here." Following the committee's decision, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said "the next step is to declare Balad illegal because it's a terror organization that seeks to hurt Israel." An attorney representing Lieberman's party said that former Balad head Azmi Bishara, who fled the country under suspicion of spying for Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War, was still consulted regularly by party members. Brenda Gazzar and Shelly Paz contributed to this report.