Knesset set to ban Arab MK as Blue and White confirms it backs disqualification

With Likud already on board, Elections Committee has majority to bar Heba Yazbak from running in elections due to her alleged support of terror; Supreme Court can overrule

MK Heba Yazbak of the Ra'am-Balad party holds a press conference in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
MK Heba Yazbak of the Ra'am-Balad party holds a press conference in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Joint List MK Heba Yazbak will seemingly be disqualified on Tuesday from running for the Knesset, after senior Blue and White lawmaker Yair Lapid confirmed that his party would join Likud and others in backing a petition to blacklist her.

At least some lawmakers from the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance apparently will also back her disqualification, after the party agreed to disagree on the matter.

The Central Elections Committee, which is staffed by lawmakers and headed by Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, is set to deliberate the petition on Tuesday.

Even if Yazbak is disqualified as expected, however, the Supreme Court may overturn the decision, as is often done.

Yazbak, a member of Balad, has faced criticism over a Facebook post she made in 2015 in praise of Lebanese terrorist Samir 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.”

Lapid told Army Radio that his party will vote in favor of disqualifying her over her alleged support for terror, confirming reports that the centrist party was leaning that way.

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, on December 25, 2019. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The move could complicate any future plans Blue and White might potentially have to build a governing coalition supported by the Joint List after elections.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told Channel 12 news last week that Blue and White’s backing for Yazbak’s disqualification would be “viewed severely,” without elaborating.

Following September’s elections, the Joint List recommended Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to form a coalition, but said it would not sit in a government he headed.

Neither the ruling Likud party or Blue and White were able to negotiate a government leading to another vote set for March 2.

The question of disqualifying Yazbak also split the recently formed Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance of left-wing parties which decided Monday that they would each act independently in choosing whether or not to support the petition.

The development came after differences of opinion emerged on backing or opposing the petition, which was filed by Likud MK Ofir Katz.

The LGM slate, formed last week, brings together the center-left Labor and bread-and-butter focused Gesher parties with the more hardline leftist Meretz faction, a reluctant alliance reached over shared concerns of failing to clear the Knesset vote threshold in March elections.

Despite ideological differences, the parties are planning a united electoral campaign.

At what was the alliance’s first joint meeting, the party chiefs of each wing agreed they would have the freedom to act as they wish when the Central Elections Committee considers the petition.

Labor-Gesher party MK Itzik Shmuli speaks at the party conference in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor-Gesher Mk Itzik Shmuli tweeted Monday that he supports the petition, which is “completely justified and should be supported without question.”

However, Yair Golan, who is seventh on the combined slate, tweeted that Yazbak should not be disqualified.

“It is not easy for me to read Yazbak’s things on Facebook, but to disqualify a law abiding citizen from running is to give a prize to those who defame Israeli democracy.”

“Let’s focus on disqualifying a violent group of outlaws who have clashed with police and soldiers their whole lives,” he continued, apparently referring to extremist Jewish settlers who are the voter base for the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

“Because in a democracy you disqualify people on their actions, not on sharing outrageous things on Facebook,” Golan wrote.

Katz, who filed the petition against Yazbak, attacked Golan, writing on Facebook that “those who support terror should be in prison not in the Knesset.”

Yair Golan attends a Meretz party conference in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Sunday, Labor-Gesher party chairman Amir Peretz told Channel 13 television news that the party takes a “serious view” on the things that Yazbak wrote and that “it seems we will support disqualifying her, but we are waiting until the hearing” to properly review the case against the lawmaker.

Elections in April and September failed to produce a ruling coalition — a first in Israel’s history, leading to a third round of voting in March.

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