Elections committee votes to bar Arab MK Yazbak; Supreme Court to have final say

Panel made up of party representatives accepts petition to disqualify Joint List lawmaker, accused of condoning violence against IDF troops, from running in March

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Joint List MK Heba Yazbak during the Central Elections Committee discussion on a petition to disqualify her from running in the March 2020 Knesset Elections, January 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List MK Heba Yazbak during the Central Elections Committee discussion on a petition to disqualify her from running in the March 2020 Knesset Elections, January 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of disqualifying  MK Heba Yazbak of the predominantly Arab Joint List party from running in the March 2 elections.

Voting 27-7, the committee, led by a Supreme Court justice and made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s political factions, accepted the petition filed against Yazbak by Likud MK Ofir Katz, who claimed that she has “systematically, for years, supported terrorists and spies who have committed horrific crimes against the State of Israel and its residents.”

Israel’s election laws ban anyone who openly supports armed conflict against Israel or incites racism from running for Knesset.

“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,” the petition stated.

Yazbak, a member of the Arab nationalist Balad party in the Joint List alliance, faced specific criticism over two Facebook posts: one 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; and another that welcomed the end of a nine-year sentence for Amir Makhoul, who pleaded guilty to handing sensitive information to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

She was also criticized for statements she made that some have read as condoning violence against Israeli soldiers.

The Central Elections Committee discusses a petition to disqualify MK Heba Yazbak from running in the March 2020 Knesset Elections, January 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Addressing the committee, Yazbak called the claims “absurd” and said the attacks against her were “based on racism.”

“I have never called for the use of violence. Nor did I intend to praise the use of violence,” she said, referring to the Facebook posts. “The only thing connected to violence I’ve dealt with in my life is the fight against violence.”

Slamming the committee as a “blatant political body,” she called the disqualification “an attempt to prevent Arab members of Knesset from having one of the most fundamental rights — the right to vote and be elected.”

“Dark forces in the country are twisting a woman who has struggled all her life for the values ​​of life, justice and peace into a terrorist supporter, only because it serves their political vision and electoral purpose. But this monster created by the right just doesn’t exist,” she said.

At the same time, Yazbak stressed that she would “not remain silent in the struggle for justice and peace” and that “all attempts to silence true political debate will not succeed.”

“Even if the authentic Palestinian narrative is trampled on, silenced and made illegitimate by most politicians for years, it will not be erased or forgotten. The mere fact that the discourse is trampled does not mean that it does not exist,” she said.

Almost all of the Knesset’s Jewish lawmakers united behind the efforts to ban Yazbak, including the centrist Blue and White party and parts of the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz.

Despite the decision, any ruling by the committee to bar a candidate must be also upheld by the Supreme Court, which is seen as likely to adopt Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s position that Yazbak should not be barred.

Mandelblit issued a statement on Monday saying he opposed the disqualification of Yazbak.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing State Prosector Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90/File)

Mandelblit said Yazbak came very close to crossing the threshold for disqualification for the Knesset, but did not quite cross the line.

“Some of the statements presented are very serious and repugnant.” Mandelblit’s office wrote in a letter to the Central Elections Committee.

Mandelblit 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.”

Earlier this week Yazbak refused to retract statements she has made that some have claimed condone violence against Israeli soldiers.

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 a 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.”

The committee also voted unanimously Wednesday to disqualify a political party established by the wife of Yigal Amir, the murderer of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The panel voted 13-0 to ban Mishpat Tzedek (Fair Trial), which is headed by Larissa Trimbobler-Amir and calls for a retrial for the convicted killer and “all other innocent people unjustly incarcerated.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the panel Tuesday that the party should not be barred from running for Knesset, noting that Trimbobler-Amir had signed an affidavit stating that the party was not justifying the murder of Rabin but, rather, that it sought to secure Amir’s release through a retrial.

Amir, now 49, is serving a life sentence for the 1995 assassination of Rabin. He remains in solitary confinement, though he got married while in prison in 2004 after a protracted legal struggle.

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