The High Court of Justice on Sunday narrowly upheld the candidacy of hardline Joint List MK Heba Yazbak, overturning a January decision by the Central Elections Committee to bar her from running in the March 2 election over her alleged support of terror.
Efforts to bar Yazbak, a member of the Arab nationalist Balad party in the Joint List alliance, were based on two Facebook posts: one which 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 was also criticized for statements she made that some have read as condoning violence against Israeli soldiers.
Likud argued in its petition demanding Yazbak’s disqualification that the MK “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.
In a 5-4 ruling, the top legal body said that while the posts publicized by Yazbak were inappropriate, there was not a critical mass of statements that justified disqualification. Moreover, the court posited that a significant amount of time had elapsed since Yazbak’s most controversial post. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut was one of the four justices who supported the ban.
“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 who she praised.
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 statemants in support 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.
Blue and White MK Orna Barbivai said the decision marked a win for Yazbak, but a loss for her majority-Arab Joint List party. “Twenty percent of the country’s citizens,” she said, referring to Arab Israelis, “will ask themselves whether a representative who supported abominable murderers can represent their needs in the Knesset and whether they can give their vote to the Joint List.”
Further on the left though, 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.
For her part, Yazbak said in a statement that the ruling proved “that the disqualification petitions were part of an incitement campaign against me and against the entire Arab society and its representatives.”
“We will continue to work toward ending the occupation, for lifting the siege, for a just peace, for equality and for justice,” she added.
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 demurred, 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 party and parts of the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz.