Controversial Arab MK faces disqualification as Central Elections Committee convenes

Controversial Arab MK faces disqualification as Central Elections Committee convenes

Hanin Zoabi and her Balad party support armed struggle against Israel, petitioners argue; ultra-Orthodox parties challenged for fielding female-less slates; any ban could be overturned by Supreme Court

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hanin Zoabi (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hanin Zoabi (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Central Elections Committee was debating on Wednesday a slew of petitions calling for the disqualification of various parties from participating in the forthcoming general elections, and according to assessments was likely to endorse one of the most controversial of those petitions — to disqualify the Balad party and its firebrand parliamentarian Hanin Zoabi.

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

The petition against Zoabi, which is being spearheaded by Likud MK Ofir Akunis, claims 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 are also accused of supporting the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.

Although Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein wrote earlier this week that there weren’t sufficient grounds to disqualify any of the candidates, a survey of committee members — the chairman of the body is Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein — indicated that the petition against Zoabi and Balad would be endorsed. However, 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.

Although most of the parties facing petitions were set to send representatives and lawyers to argue their case before the committee, Balad and Zoabi said their members would boycott the meeting to avoid giving any political gain to the right-wing parties. Balad said it would hold its own press conference to address efforts to see it taken out of the running.

“Balad is sticking to its position and won’t give in to threats of disqualification,” party chairman Jamal Zahalka said.

Zoabi has explained her presence on the ill-fated 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 Tukish 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 for 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.

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