Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday issued a statement saying he opposed the disqualification of MK Heba Yazbak of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, over statements she has made that some have claimed condone violence against Israeli soldiers.
Mandelblit said Yazbak came very close to crossing the threshold for disqualification for the Knesset, but did not quite cross the line. A majority of Jewish Knesset members wish to ban Yazbak ahead of the March elections.
“Some of the statements presented are very serious and repugnant.” Mandelblit’s office wrote in a letter to the Central Elections Committee.
Mandelblit’s statement said, however, that “there is not a critical mass of unequivocal and convincing evidence that justifies the disqualification of [Yazbak] from running in elections for the 23rd Knesset.”
He added that Yazbak and other candidates should heed the warning and refrain from publicizing similar statements in the future.
Though Mandelblit’s position is only a recommendation, it could carry weight with Supreme Court justice if the CEC votes to bar Yazbak and the decision is appealed at the court.
Itamar Ben Gvir, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, mocked Mandelblit’s decision, writing on Twitter that the attorney general would have allowed terrorists Samir Kuntar and Dalal Mughrabi to run in the Knesset.
The right-wing Yamina alliance called the move “a tailwind for terror support.
“Freedom of speech does not justify the advancement of a terror supporter,” the party wrote on its Facebook page. “Yazbak is better suited to represent Hamas than the citizens of Israel. We will work to prevent her entrance into the Knesset.”
Yazbak earlier Monday refused to retract the inflammatory statements she had made.
In a recent interview with Channel 13, she said that “international law permits people under occupation to take action to liberate themselves.”
When the interviewer pressed her and asked if she considered attacks on soldiers to be legitimate resistance she demurred, saying, “What isn’t legitimate is the continued occupation.”
On Monday, in her response to a query on the quote from Mandelblit, Yazbak said she stands by the statement and insisted that it did not imply support for violence.
“I didn’t say that I support, or call for, harming soldiers or any other person,” she said, maintaining that the comments do not amount to incitement to violence and thus should not disqualify her from running. “I stand by the things I said.”
Almost all of the Knesset’s Jewish lawmakers have united behind the efforts to ban Yazbak, including the centrist Blue and White party and parts of the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz.
In addition to her comments on Channel 13, Yazbak, a member of the Arab nationalist Balad party in the Joint List alliance, is facing criticism over several of her Facebook posts, including one in 2015 in praise of slain Lebanese terrorist Kuntar, who in 1979 took part in the brutal murder of members of an Israeli family in the northern city of Nahariya. The post included a picture of Kuntar with the inscription: “The martyr fighter Samir Kuntar.”
Another post welcomed the end of a nine-year sentence for Amir Makhoul, who pleaded guilty to handing sensitive information to the Lebanese group Hezbollah. “After nine years in prison, Amir is back with the people again. Congratulations,” she wrote.
Israel’s election laws ban from running for Knesset anyone who openly supports armed conflict against Israel or incites racism.
According to the petition filed by Likud MK Ofir Katz, Yazbak has “systematically, for years, supported terrorists and spies who have committed horrific crimes against the State of Israel and its residents. There is no place in the Knesset for those who support a murderer of a 4-year-old girl with a rifle butt, spies for Hezbollah terrorists and terrorists who shoot at civilians,” he said in his petition.
The Central Elections Committee, which is staffed by lawmakers and headed by Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, is set to deliberate the petition to ban Yazbak on Wednesday. But even if she is disqualified as expected, the Supreme Court may yet overturn the decision, as it has often done in the past with previous disqualified candidates.