Middle East Monitor / January 30, 2020
On 29 January, the Central Election Committee (CEC) within the Israeli Knesset moved to disqualify Palestinian member of the Knesset (MK), Heba Yazbak of the Balad party, from running in the upcoming March election. The motion will now be moved to the Supreme Court, who will convene on 5 February, and provide a final answer on 9 February.
Motions were also presented to disqualify the entire Joint List (a coalition of four primarily Palestinian-run political parties), but were rejected by the CEC.
The legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, Adalah, and some left-leaning Israeli media outlets, are calling the repetitive attempts to disqualify Palestinian MKs and parties, a clear effort to remove Palestinians from the Israeli political process.
Sawsan Zaher, Yazbak’s lawyer and deputy general director attorney of Adalah, explained to MEMO: “In every election cycle in the past 20 years, we see that there is a very clear intention of these motions, which is meant to exclude the Arab representatives from being elected and serving in the Israeli parliament.”
2 March will be the third attempt this fiscal year, to establish an Israeli government as prime minister and Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, failed to yield necessary Knesset votes after the April and September elections in 2019. Motions to disqualify the Joint List were also presented before the CEC, before the April and September elections, but were dismissed due to lack of sufficient evidence.
Motions to disqualify Palestinian parties and candidates are commonly presented by the far-right, ultra-Zionist Jewish Power party. This time around, MK Ophir Katz of the Likud party and MK Oded Forer of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction, joined Jewish Power party leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir, in bringing a total of three motions against Yazbak’s disqualification. Itamar Ben-Gvir, himself, was presented with a disqualification motion in 2019.
The motions against Yazbak are primarily based on two Facebook posts she made more than five years ago, before she ran for Knesset. In a 2015 post, Yazbak referred to Samir Kuntar – who murdered members of an Israeli family, including a 4-year-old child in 1979, and was later assassinated by the state after serving his prison sentence – as a “martyr”.
In a 2013, Yazbak posted a photo of Dalal Mughrabi – who, along with other Palestine Liberation Organisation fighters from Lebanon, attacked a bus in Israel, killing 38 civilians – to highlight Palestinian women’s involvement in the liberation of Palestine, with reference to that year’s International Women’s Day.
The disqualification motions invoked the Israeli election law which bans anyone who “openly supports armed conflict against Israel or incites racism” from running for Knesset. But, as Yazbak’s lawyer argues: “There was nothing in her posts that calls for violence or supports any kind of armed struggle. In order to implement this and call for a disqualification, there should be a very clear call.”
She added that Yazbak’s posts were aimed at critiquing the human rights violation of state-sanctioned assassinations, and the undermining of the role of women within Palestinian society in her 2015 and 2013 posts, respectively.
Moreover, lawyer Zaher continued, the right-wing Israeli lawmakers fail to understand the Palestinian point of view and the context of occupation, demanding liberation. “The Palestinian narrative and the Palestinian parliamentary activities, which reflect… the reality of what the Palestinians who live here in Israel face, is generally not and cannot be accepted by the majority,” Zaher expressed.
“I’m not surprised they disqualified me, the outcome of this game was predetermined,” disclosed Yazbak in an official statement. “Israel’s Central Elections Committee is a political body rather than a legal body, and its members make political decisions.”
According to a March 2019 Adalah factsheet, the CEC was created after the 1969 Election Law, which also solidified the ability to disqualify parties and candidates from running for office. Within amendments to 1985 Basic Law: The Knesset, the grounds upon which a party or member could be disqualified were enumerated based upon the fundamental idea of Israel being a Jewish state.
“The vaguely-worded provisions of Article 7A [amendment to the 1985 Basic Law] are dangerous as they could be used to ban a party that adopts political positions like supporting a one-state solution, or a ‘state for all its citizens’, on the basis that they constitute some form of denial of the nature of the Jewish state,” the Adalah report reads.
Though the CEC is seen as a highly politicised entity, the Supreme Court is typically more objective. The Supreme Court has overturned each ruling of a Palestinian political or party disqualification by the CEC since 2002, on the basis of insufficient evidence. Adalah expects the same scenery with Yazbak, especially since attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, released a statement prior to Wednesday’s CEC hearing, that he opposes the disqualification of Yazbak.
“It is clear to me that there is no legal basis for my disqualification and I hope the Supreme Court will act accordingly,” announced Yazbak in her official statement.
Megan Giovannetti regularly contributes to Middle East Monitor