For one of the nine justices who ruled on Joint List candidate Heba Yazbak’s eligibility to run for the Knesset on Sunday, the decision hit painfully close to home.
Justice Anat Baron, one of the five judges to rule in favor of Yazbak’s candidacy, lost a son in the Mike’s Place terror attack on the Tel Aviv beachfront in April 2003, a bombing subsequently claimed by both the Hamas and Fatah factions.
Ran Baron was 24, a budding musician and stand-up comedian, when he was killed.
Justice Baron cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision Sunday evening, allowing the High Court of Justice to narrowly uphold the candidacy of the hardline MK and overturning a January decision by the Central Elections Committee to bar her from running in the March 2 election over her alleged support for terror.
Efforts to bar Yazbak, a member of the Arab nationalist Balad party in the Joint List alliance, were based on social media posts, including one that she shared in 2015, that praised 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 had also praised Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah member who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were killed.
She was also criticized for statements she made that some have read as condoning violence against Israeli soldiers.
In her ruling, Baron noted Israel’s experience with terrorism, saying, “The history of Israel since its inception and to this very day has been rife with terror attacks and bloodshed. Horrifying images of bodies strewn next to exploded buses and of entertainment venues turned into scenes of terror and carnage, do not fade even with the passage of the years, and will be inscribed in our hearts forever. Car-ramming attacks against soldiers and civilians, murder in broad daylight by stabbing — these are part of our experience even today.
“For murderous terror attacks there is no forgiveness and no absolution, for the pain no remedy. And there is no doubt that those who support the murder of Jews for being Jews do not belong in the Knesset,” she wrote.
She acknowledged that “the temptation to rule according to one’s feelings is powerful. Even so, we must be vigilant not to let that temptation overpower the strict criteria [set in law] that alone could justify barring a candidate from standing for Knesset. That is the question before us awaiting our decision.”
Baron joined with the majority decision that found that the evidence for Yazbak’s support for terror was scattershot and old, was not repeated in recent years, and was vehemently denied by the candidate herself.
“There was no critical mass of clear, unambiguous and convincing evidence to justify rejection [of her candidacy],” the majority judges wrote, falling in line with the legal opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who had also stated in January that Yazbak should be allowed to run, despite some of her statements being “very severe and repugnant.”
The court determined that there was no proof that the posts were a primary feature of Yazbak’s political activity or that she aspired to carry out the violence of the terrorists whom she praised.
The minority view, which included Chief Justice Esther Hayut, said that the evidence presented to the court showed a long and consistent history of support for some of the most infamous terror attacks ever perpetrated against Israelis, and so invalidated Yazbak’s candidacy.
Yazbak welcomed the decision, but claimed the narrow margin was a sign that the High Court had come under the influence of right-wing populism.
“The court made the correct and just decision not to disqualify my candidacy. But I’m still worried about the reasoning and the spirit of the ruling,” Yazbak told Army Radio in a Monday morning interview on the ruling.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a minority [as large as] four justices” in a ruling concerning the disqualification of an Arab candidate.
Some of the justices, she said, were “taken in by the grandstanding and atmosphere of the political debate. The attorney general was pretty clear that there are no grounds for my disqualification.”
She also said that her views had been misrepresented. “Everyone has my opinion articles, my [social media] posts, and the context in which each one was written. When it comes to Mughrabi, I want to say, so everyone knows my moral view: I’m against murdering children, innocents, any person. I had no intention to incite violence. The opposite is true.”
The court decision sparked a rush of angry reactions from right-wing lawmakers.
“Heba Yazbak and her friends should sit in the parliament in Ramallah and not in the Knesset,” said Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman. “The fact that the court overturned the decision of the Central Elections Commission and allowed Yazbak to run in the upcoming elections is a prize for supporters of terrorism.”
The national religious Yamina party said in a statement that “the Supreme Court judges proved once again tonight that they have for a long time now not been occupied with pursuing justice, but with pursuing liberal leftist politics and agendas.
“The authorization of Yazbak, who supported murderers and would not even apologize or repudiate, is a new low for the High Court and the public’s confidence in it,” the party added.
The leader of the centrist Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, said he believed “Heba Yazbak’s statements in support of terrorists should have led to her disqualification.” But, he added, “We will respect the court ruling.”
Regardless, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the ruling to attack Gantz.
“From this day forward, Benny Gantz will be reliant on Heba Yazbak, who praises terrorists, because without the Joint List, Gantz has no way of forming a government,” he said.
On the left, some lawmakers offered support for the court decision.
Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg argued that the ruling “stems from legal and non-political considerations.”
“I call on right-wing lawmakers to accept the verdict and, for a change, not continue with their incitement against Arabs and the courts,” she said.
Last month, the Central Elections Committee voted 27-7 to disqualify Yazbak, but decisions by the body of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s political factions can always be appealed in the High Court.
Addressing the committee last month, 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.”
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 sidestepped the question, saying, “What isn’t legitimate is the continued occupation.”
Almost all of the Knesset’s Jewish lawmakers united behind the efforts to ban Yazbak, including the centrist Blue and White and parts of Labor-Gesher-Meretz.