Blue and White said expected to back request to disqualify Arab MK

Ahmad Tibi warns that support by Gantz’s party for barring Heba Yazbak from running in elections over her alleged terror support will be ‘viewed severely’ by the Joint List

Heba Yazbak at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem for a hearing on whether to disqualify the Ra'am-Balad party from running in the general elections, March 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)
Heba Yazbak at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem for a hearing on whether to disqualify the Ra'am-Balad party from running in the general elections, March 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

The Blue and White party will likely support a motion to disqualify a lawmaker from the Joint List ahead of the March elections, a move that could sour ties with the majority Arab electoral alliance, Israeli television reported Friday.

Likud MK Ofir Katz is set to file a request next week with the Central Elections Committee against Joint List MK Heba Yazbak for allegedly supporting terrorism, with Blue and White expected to back the request, according to Channel 12 news.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi told the network 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 Benny Gantz to form a coalition, but said it would not sit in a government he headed.

MKs from Balad, one of the Joint List’s four sub-factions, did not support Gantz however, citing the former army chief’s “Zionist ideology… [and] his bloody and aggressive military history.”

Both Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government, leading to the March 2 elections, which were called after elections in April and September failed to produce a ruling coalition — a first in Israel’s history.

MK Heba Yazbak shakes hands with Blue and White MK Benny Gantz at the Knesset on May 13, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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.”

The Central Elections Committee, which is staffed by lawmakers and headed by Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, would likely have a majority to disqualify Yazbak with Blue and White’s support, though any decision would be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The court voted ahead of elections in April to overturn an elections committee decision to bar Balad, which at the time was running on a joint slate with the Islamist Ra’am party.

But Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut hinted she could uphold a decision to ban Yazbak from running if forced to rule, according to Channel 12 news.

In March last year, the court allowed the extreme right-wing Otzma Yehudit  party to run, but barred party leader Michael Ben Ari over his anti-Arab ideology and incitement, the first time that the candidacy of an individual, rather than party or faction, was barred.

Even if a Blue and White vote against Yazbak were to cost it Joint List’s support after the upcoming elections, recent polls indicate such a move may not sink its chances of forming a government, with Netanyahu and his political allies also forecast to come up short of winning a majority of Knesset seats.

Explaining its decision after the September elections to back Gantz, the first time an Arab party recommended a mainstream Zionist politician since 1992, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said “the most important thing is to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from power.”

Odeh later called for Gantz to form a minority government that includes the Joint List, saying that even if it would quickly fall, such a “courageous” move would be worth it for the single purpose of ousting Netanyahu as prime minister.

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (C) meeting with leaders of the Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmed Tibi, October 31, 2019. (Ofek Avshalom)

Netanyahu came out strongly against the Joint List as Gantz worked to put together a government, alleging its lawmakers wanted to “destroy the country” and that the party’s inclusion in a coalition would be a “national historic terror attack on the State of Israel.”

A potential minority government — whether with Joint List or its outside backing — was taken off the table after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose right-wing secularist party holds the balance between the Knesset blocs, ruled out joining such a coalition.

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