The Central Elections Committee on Thursday disqualified MK Hanin Zoabi of the Joint Arab List from participating in the coming general elections. Zoabi’s disqualification was approved by a margin of 27 votes in favor to six against.
The committee includes representatives of existing parties, and is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran. The decision to disqualify individual candidates has to be approved by the High Court of Justice.
“I’m not surprised,” Zoabi said after the ruling. “I’m certain the High Court of Justice will reverse the decision. I represent the democratic public in Israel.”
Zoabi was barred by the committee from running in the January 2013 elections, but the disqualification was overturned by the High Court of Justice.
The court has scheduled hearings for appeals by disqualified election candidates for Tuesday, February 17.
Israel’s election laws forbid anyone who openly supports armed conflict against Israel from running for Knesset. It was that law that formed the basis for appeals to the committee against her candidacy.
Zoabi was aboard the Gaza flotilla of May 2010 that ended in a melee between activists and IDF soldiers that left 10 Turkish citizens dead and several Israeli soldiers wounded.
She insisted last year that the kidnappers of three Israeli teens last summer — at the time it had yet to emerge that they had been killed shortly after their abduction — were not terrorists. She accused an Arab police officer of treason against his ethnic origins, a statement interpreted as a call for violence against Arab Israeli police officers. Such incidents led the Knesset House Committee to vote to suspend her from Knesset committees and debates for six months, a decision upheld by the High Court of Justice last year.
In a legal opinion submitted Wednesday to the elections committee, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was opposed to the disqualification of Knesset candidates from the political fringes, namely Zoabi and the far-right candidate Baruch Marzel from Yahad.
Weinstein said that while Zoabi had in the past made “worrying remarks” that could be interpreted as offering support for terrorism, the evidence against the lawmaker was not clear-cut and did not provide sufficient cause to deny her the right to stand for election.
The attorney-general issued a similar opinion regarding Marzel.
In both cases, the petitions, filed by the candidates’ political opponents, claim that the candidate in question has violated Israeli election law – Marzel for alleged anti-Arab racism and Zoabi for alleged support for Hamas and opposition to Israel’s identity as a Jewish nation-state.
Marzel, formerly of the Otzma Leisrael (“Strength for Israel”) party, has led marches of far-right activists through Arab towns and was affiliated with the now-banned Kach party founded by the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
The committee has not yet made a decision on Marzel’s candidacy.
Weinstein’s opinion is not legally binding, but as the top law-enforcement official in government who also serves as the government’s most senior legal adviser, his view may help sway the votes of committee members.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) welcomed the decision to disqualify the Arab MK, saying she does not belong in the Knesset “or even in the Palestinian Authority…. I hope this time around the High Court of Justice does not repeat the mistake made with [fugitive lawmaker and suspected Hezbollah spy] Azmi Bishara and will not allow the supporter of terrorists and helper of the Marmara [Gaza flotilla] attackers to run as a candidate for the parliament of the Jewish state,” he said.
Liberman added: “Zoabi belongs with the terrorists from Hamas.”
Senior Likud lawmaker Yisrael Katz, who currently serves as the transportation minister, also praised the committee’s decision, calling Zoabi a “certified traitor.”
“Zoabi actively works against Israel, at home and abroad. She supports terror, and therefore her place is not in the Knesset of Israel,” he declared.
The center-left Zionist Union list headed by Labor leader Isaac Herzog supported Zoabi’s disqualification last week, retracted the position earlier this week, and then announced a return to its original support for the disqualification on Wednesday.
The initial about-face was seen as a nod to the Arab parties, who are polling at between 11 and 13 Knesset seats and whose support after the March 17 election will be critical for Herzog’s ambitions to replace Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
The left-wing Meretz party criticized the elections committee’s decision and called Zionist Union’s support for Zoabi’s disqualification “an embarrassing kow-tow to the right-wing chorus. Those who want to be an alternative [to the right] must show public courage, especially in controversial matters,” a statement read.
“We disagree with many of MK Hanin Zoabi’s statements. But making people angry is not a cause for disqualification,” Meretz said. “The Knesset can be the home of voices beyond the consensus, and it’s a shame the [elections committee] turned the substantive debate into political theater.”
The centrist Yesh Atid party threw its support behind efforts to disqualify the two extremist Knesset hopefuls Wednesday.