Supreme Court expected to overturn electoral ban on Zoabi

December 21, 2012
Sarah Benton

In this posting, reports from Times of Israel, +972, Ynet news, and statement of condemnation from Euromed Human Rights Network

Arab parliament member Hanin Zoabi holds a press conference in the Knesset on Wednesday. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASh90

Central Elections Committee bans Arab MK Hanin Zoabi from running in elections

Supreme Court likely to overturn decision; Zoabi charges that the panel violated the rights of an entire population

By Stuart Winer and Adiv Sterman, Times of Israel
December 19, 2012

Israel’s Central Elections Committee voted on Wednesday to disqualify Balad party MK Hanin Zoabi from participating in the forthcoming general elections. The committee voted against disqualifying the Balad party itself, as well as the United Arab List party.

The decision to disqualify Zoabi will be appealed at the Supreme Court, probably next week, where it is likely to be overturned.

Other challenges are being leveled at the ultra-Orthodox factions, and the far-right Otzma Leyisrael party.

The petition against Zoabi, which was spearheaded by Likud MK Ofir Akunis, claimed that the Arab Israeli Knesset member undermined the state and its institutions, including the IDF, by participating in the Mavi Marmara flotilla that tried to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010.

Balad and the United Arab List party were accused of supporting the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.

Zoabi expressed contempt for the decision, accusing the committee of being politically motivated. “The decision is illegitimate. It is an expression of the tyranny of the majority and the destruction of basic democratic rights. It is the result of political vengeance and a miserable attempt to tread on the rights of an entire population,” she said.

Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalke pledged that if the committee’s decision to ban Zoabi was not overturned by the court, the entire party would withdraw from the elections.

The Coalition Against Racism in Israel, opposing the decision, said it was based on political calculations. “A strong democracy is tested by its ability to contain opinions, even if they are different or hurtful,” said coalition director Nadal Othomann. “Even if we do not all agree with Zoabi’s words, we shall fight for her right to express them,” he said.

Akunis, lauding the committee’s decision, said that “MK Zoabi clearly violated basic Israeli law when she took part in the Marmara terror act and so she has no place in the Knesset. A democracy needs to know how to defend itself from those who wish to destroy it from within. I hope and believe that the disqualification will be ratified by the Supreme Court.”

Earlier, the Central Elections Committee meeting was called to a halt after MK Ahmad Tibi said the committee was made up of “third-rate politicians.” He also accused its members of being “Jewish fascists.” Right-wing party representatives who were present engaged in a shouting match with Tibi, challenging him to “make that kind of comment in Syria.” The committee chairman, Supreme Court Justice Amnon Rubinstein, requested that he apologize. After a few minutes’ break, the committee resumed its session.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein wrote earlier this week that there weren’t sufficient grounds to disqualify any of the candidates in the January 22 elections. Any move to disqualify a party or politician has to pass muster in the Supreme Court, which in 2009 overturned a Central Elections Committee decision to ban Balad.

Nineteen committee members voted in favor of disqualifying Zoabi and nine voted against. The representatives in favor included members of Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, National Union, United Torah Judaism, Kadima and Jewish Home. Hatnua, Labor, Balad, Meretz and the United Arab List party voted against. One MK from the Independence party abstained.

Thirteen members voted for disqualifying her party, Balad, and 16 voted against.

In the vote to disqualify the United Arab List party, Shas members voted against while the Likud members abstained. In total, seven committee members voted for the party’s disqualification and 17 voted against.

Zoabi has explained her presence on the Mavi Marmara ferry by saying that the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel, the body that represents the country’s Arab population, was asked to participate by the European organizers, and that she was chosen to sail with the protesters. Zoabi claimed she paid her own fare and was in no way associated with the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which sponsored the flotilla.

During a raid on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandos, nine Turkish citizens were killed, leading to a diplomatic crisis with Ankara that has yet to be resolved. Earlier this year it was reported that the head of the IHH was under investigation for transferring funds to al-Qaeda.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties face petitions for failing to include women on their candidate slates for the January 22 elections.

The far-right Otzma Leyisrael party, some of whose founders are former members of the Kach party, is facing disqualification on charges of anti-Arab racism. Kach, which was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, was banned during the 1990s from taking part in elections. In the United States, the organization spawned the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which is considered a terrorist organization by the FBI.

Election committee bans Palestinian MK Zoabi from participating in elections

An automatic appeal before the Supreme Court will be heard next week. Zoabi’s party, Balad, has already announced it will withdraw from the elections if the decision is not reversed.

By Noam Sheizaf, +972
December 19, 2012

Israel’s Central Election Committee (CEC) voted on Wednesday to disqualify Palestinian Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi from participating in the coming elections. MK Zoabi is the number two candidate on Balad’s Knesset list. The decision is automatically transferred to the Supreme Court, which will hear the appeal next week. Earlier today, Balad announced that if the Supreme Court doesn’t allow Zoabi to run, the entire party will withdraw from the elections.

The decision did not come as a surprise: The CEC is a political body whose members are determined in proportion to the representation of their parties in the Knesset. The current committee therefore has a clear right-wing majority. The decision to ban Zoabi from taking part in the elections was also supported by members of Kadima, widely considered a centrist party. Labor, Meretz, Hadash, Livni’s Hatnua party and the Palestinian parties voted against, and the result was 19-9 in favor of the disqualification.

Interestingly enough, the CEC rejected requests to disqualify Palestinian parties Balad and Ra’am Ta’al from taking part in the elections. In previous elections, both parties were disqualified but the decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.

Still, Balad held a press conference today, in which party leader Dr. Jamal Zahalka made it clear that Balad will not run without Zoabi:

This [move] hurts the entire Arab public. Its purpose is to weaken the political power of the Arab citizens in the Knesset and to strengthen the Israeli right. We fully support MK Zoabi and all her actions, and we emphasize again that if the Supreme Court does not reverse the decision, Balad will not take part in the coming elections.

MK Zoabi, the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, was singled out by the Israeli right in 2010 due to her participation in the first Gaza flotilla. But despite all the video evidence that the IDF confiscated from passengers on the Mavi Marmara, it failed to prove that MK Zoabi knew or took place in any action against IDF soldiers who stormed the ship (leaving eight Turkish citizens and one American dead). After failing to press criminal charges against Zoabi, coalition members tried to withdraw some of her rights as an MK, and even to physically attack her. At one point, the Knesset speaker had to assign bodyguards to the Arab Knesset member.

Here is the link to a video (with English subtitles) showing Knesset Members preventing MK Zoabi from speaking:

Chances are that the Supreme Court will indeed let Zoabi run (I am pretty sure that some of the MKs who voted against her had this in mind). Israeli law actually makes it harder to prevent a specific candidate, rather than an entire party, from running, and the evidence against him or her needs to be very strong. This is not the case with Zoabi. Earlier this week, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued an opinion claiming there is not enough evidence to disqualify Zoabi. It is thus very unlikely that even the current Supreme Court, which is more conservative then previous ones, will take a different position.

In the unlikely event that Zoabi is disqualified, a boycott – at least partial – of the elections by Palestinian citizens of Israel will probably take place. Such a scenario won’t only change the outcome of the vote, but would also be a watershed moment between Arab and Jewish citizens in Israel, the significance of which will be felt long after these elections.

Zoabi ban unlikely to affect Arab voters

Supreme Court has yet to rule on Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify Balad’s MK from next elections, but ruling seems unlikely to change sector’s inherently low voting rates

By Hassan Shaalan, Ynet news
December 20, 2012

“Disqualifying Arab Knesset members is not the end of the world,” the Central Elections Committee said in its ruling barring MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) from seeking reelection in the upcoming elections.

The ruling, rendered Wednesday, was carried 19-9 and was the first of its kind. The matter is now pending a ruling by the Supreme Court and a hearing on the matter has been set for next week.

But what of the Arab voters? The Arab sector in Israel usually notes low voting rates, and political analysts believe the decision to disqualify the controversial MK will have little – if any – effect on the matter.

The prior elections saw 53.4% of eligible Israeli-Arabs exercise their right to vote, compared with 65.2% of Israelis eligible to vote.

The Israeli-Arab public, while disappointed by the decision, seemed mostly unfazed by the news of Zoabi’s disqualification.

“You have to vote for Arab parties that support coexistence,” Omar Rabiya, from Tayibe, told Ynet. “But I don’t think many people will vote at all. People are tired for politics and they’re disappointed with the Arab MKs.”

Attorney Fuad Sultani, from Tira, predicted that Zoabi’s disqualification will improve voting turnout in the Arab sector, “Because there’s a rise in the power of the right-wing and fascist parties. The Arab parties have one goal now – to get people to vote.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “The Zionist parties and the establishment have taken it upon themselves to decide who can and cannot run for election. Still, I can’t see a situation where Arab parties are disqualified. If that happens, the Arab public will boycott the elections altogether.”

Bilal Sala’ata of Sakhnin added that the Arab public in Israel was disappointed by the fact that the Arab parties have failed to join forces, even for the sake of running under one ticket, despite a clear preference to that effect among their constituents.

He too believes that the sector’s voting rates will be unaffected by the Election Committee’s decision.

Dr. Asad Ghanem, a senior lecturer at the School of Political Sciences in Haifa University added: “The past has shown that there is a political tendency to disqualify Arab Knesset members, but the Supreme Court is likely to see the bigger picture and overturn the ruling.

“I don’t think the Arab sector is nervous about the disqualification at all and even if the court ratifies it, it’s unlikely to have any significant ramifications.”

EMHRN Condemns the Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify Knesset member Haneen Zoabi from running for election in Israel

By EuroMed Human Rights Network
December 21, 2012

The EMHRN condemns the decision of the Israeli Central Elections Committee (CEC) to disqualify Member of Knesset (MK) Haneen Zoabi – the only Palestinian Arab woman elected on a party list representing the Palestinian minority in Israel – from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 22 January 2013. By approving the disqualification motion submitted by the ruling Likud party, the CEC not only violates the right of MK Zoabi to stand for election, but also risks the disenfranchisement of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, who would be denied their constitutional right to elect their representatives.

On 19 December 2012, the CEC – a body comprised of political party representatives from the Knesset and headed by a Supreme Court justice – voted to disqualify MK Zoabi from the upcoming Knesset elections by a majority vote of 19-9, with one abstention. The disqualification motion is based on two grounds: that MK Zoabi “denies the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” as she and her political party – The National Democratic Assembly-Balad – call for a “state for all its citizens”, and MK Zoabi’s participation in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010, which allegedly amounts “supporting terror”.

This motion disregards previous decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court regarding the former, and the Attorney General’s decision not to indict MK Zoabi for her participation on the Flotilla. Further, the Israeli Turkel Committee, which was mandated to investigate the flotilla incident, established that MK Zoabi was not involved in any clashes with Israeli soldiers. The CEC’s decision to disqualify MK Zoabi is not final; it requires the approval of the Israeli Supreme Court, which will hold a special hearing next week.

The disqualification motion comes in a context of a growing anti-Arab sentiment in the Jewish Israeli public. This move can also be seen as a direct continuation of escalating measures, including 20 discriminatory and/or racist laws enacted by the Netanyahu-Lieberman government against Israel’s Arab-Palestinian citizens and their elected representatives in the last four years.

The representatives of minority groups must enjoy full access to participation in the political sphere. It is not acceptable for the majority to exclude minority representatives from the parliamentary process nor, in the case of MK Zoabi, is there any legal basis to do so. The right to vote and to stand for election, free of discrimination, is guaranteed to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel in human rights treaties ratified by Israel, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

According to the European Commission, “Parliament is the pre-eminent forum for national debate. It is crucial therefore that all perspectives are properly represented” (European Commission, Engaging and Supporting Parliaments Worldwide: Strategies and Methodologies for EC Action in Support to Parliaments, 2010).

Prior to the Supreme Court hearing, it is critical that the EU, including its Member States and European and national Parliamentarians, publicly denounce the disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi, and urge Israel to ensure full respect for the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to meaningful and effective political participation.

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