Amid an effort to have her banned from running for reelection in March’s national vote, MK Heba Yazbak of the predominantly Arab Joint List party refused Monday to retract statements that some have perceived as condoning violence against Israeli soldiers.
In a recent interview with Channel 13, Yazbak 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 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is processing the request to have her banned, 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 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.”
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.