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.

Would-be MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right candidate whose own Otzma Leyisrael party has been accused of racism, speaks at Wednesday's Knesset Election Committee meeting where a vote was passed banning Arab parliament member Hanin Zoabi from running in the upcoming elections. Arab MKs including Ahmed Tibi (second from left) look on. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Would-be MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right candidate whose Otzma Leyisrael party has been accused of racism, speaks at Wednesday’s Knesset Election Committee meeting where a vote was passed banning Arab parliament member Hanin Zoabi from running in the upcoming elections. Arab MKs including Ahmed Tibi (second from left) look on. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

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.