Sami Abu Shehadeh, leader of the Arab nationalist party Balad, said Friday his party might not appeal the Central Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify it from running in November’s election and effectively boycott the vote.
In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Abu Shehadeh called the decision “political,” and said party members would meet later Friday to decide on a boycott.
Balad and several of its lawmakers have been disqualified by past elections panels, and have so far won every appeal to the Supreme Court to be reinstated. This time, the party may choose a different course.
“We will meet this afternoon to discuss the issue and its various components and then reach a decision,” he said, adding that some members of his party would rather boycott the elections than appeal the decision.
“There is a serious debate in Balad about this issue, which is why we’ve convened an emergency meeting about whether we want to take this to court or not. We will consider all implications of our decision,” Abu Shehadeh said.
“My position as party leader is that we do need to participate in the elections,” he noted.
He criticized the Central Elections Committee for “trying to engineer a more popular Arab leadership and divide us into moderates and extremists,” and said its “decision is political, not professional or legal.”
He also criticized Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose National Unity party had voted in favor of disqualifying Balad.
“There was no serious legal debate. You could see the quarrel between the right and the far-right about who is more extreme,” he said of Thursday’s vote. “Gantz’s decision was a political one meant to win more votes among Israel’s right, while signaling that he isn’t any less right-wing than they are.
“The meaning of ‘right wing’ in Israel is about who hates Arabs more, who’s more racist towards Arabs and who holds more extreme views about Arabs and the Palestinians,” Abu Shehadeh charged.
Asked whether or not he considered Israel to be a Jewish and Democratic state, the Arab lawmaker said “the solution is to change the State of Israel from being a Jewish state to a democratic state,” saying “there is a contradiction in combining Jewish and democratic. The State of Israel has chosen to be Jewish to the Arab-Palestinian public and democratic to the Jewish public. I want it to be democratic for everyone, that is what I’m fighting for. The vast majority of the Arab sector supports the notion of a civic state. Most understand that there is something discriminatory against them in this structure that’s called a Jewish state.”
He continued: “I realize that I’m suggesting a challenging alternative. That’s why Balad exists. If we were like everyone else we would support those close to us ideologically. Balad’s image has nothing to do with reality or with the party’s political platform. I consider Balad to be the most moderate party — those fighting for justice and equality can’t be perceived as being extreme.”
Balad is not expected to cross the electoral threshold to enter the next Knesset. If it indeed does not, the party might burn the significant number of Arab votes that are expected to go its way, and could play a potentially key role in the predicted tight electoral math between blocs. That possibility pushed political stakeholders to reconsider their approaches to Balad’s candidacy.
The Likud party boycotted the Central Elections Committee’s hearings on Ra’am and Balad, calling the matter a “political circus” geared towards harming its right-wing bloc.
Meretz MK Gaby Lasky accused Likud, which has in the past petitioned both the Central Elections Committee and the Supreme Court to disqualify Balad, of changing its position for political expedience.
“Many of the parties that aren’t here are ones that petitioned to dismiss Balad in the past or voted in favor, but now they have a different political interest… to enable Balad to run in order to lose votes in the Arab sector, and in this way to get to the 61st seat,” Lasky said to the Central Elections Committee Thursday, in reference to the 61-seat majority needed to form a coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.
Meanwhile, as Balad’s political future remains unclear, Meretz petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday morning over the Central Election Committee’s decision not to disqualify former coalition whip and Yamina MK Idit Silman, who has sought to run with Likud ahead of the next elections.
The left-wing party had argued that Silman did not resign before the necessary deadline after leaving Yamina, and is therefore disqualified from joining the Likud party, according to Basic Law: The Knesset, section 6a. The committee disagreed, however, and rejected the petition, leading to Friday’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
Silman abruptly quit the political alliance led by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett in April, resigning both her position as coalition whip and depriving the coalition she had worked to uphold up until then of its Knesset majority. Silman’s resignation threw the Knesset into a three-month tailspin that culminated in the calling of snap elections.