Elections 2015

Panel bars Arab MK, far-right candidate from Knesset elections

Central Elections Committee rules Hanin Zoabi and Baruch Marzel cannot run; battle now moves to Supreme Court

Arab-Israeli parliament member Hanin Zoabi speaks at the Central Elections Committee in the Israeli parliament on February 12, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Arab-Israeli parliament member Hanin Zoabi speaks at the Central Elections Committee in the Israeli parliament on February 12, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The Central Elections Committee on Thursday disqualified Knesset candidates Hanin Zoabi of the Joint Arab List and Baruch Marzel of the Yachad party from participating in the coming general elections.

The decision by the panel, which must be approved by the Supreme Court, upheld petitions that objected to the candidacies, citing extremist views held by each.

Zoabi’s disqualification was approved by a margin of 27 votes in favor to six against, while Marzel’s was passed by just 17 votes in favor to 16 against.

In both cases, the petitions, filed by the candidates’ political opponents, claimed that the candidate in question had violated Israeli election law – Marzel for alleged anti-Arab racism and Zoabi for alleged support for Hamas and opposition to Israel’s identity as a Jewish nation-state.

The committee includes representatives of existing parties, and is chaired by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran. The decision to disqualify individual candidates has to be approved by the High Court of Justice.

“I’m not surprised,” Zoabi said after the ruling. “I’m certain the High Court of Justice will reverse the decision. I represent the democratic public in Israel.”

Zoabi, an MK with the Balad party know for firebrand anti-Zionist statements, was barred by the committee from running in the January 2013 elections, but the disqualification was overturned by the High Court.

She is currently running as Number 7 candidate on the Joint Arab List, which is predicted to garner some 12 seats in the March 17 vote.

Right wing activist Baruch Marzel clashes with Arab MKs and court security following a court hearing on MK Hanin Zoabi, December 9, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Right wing activist Baruch Marzel clashes with Arab MKs and court security following a court hearing on MK Hanin Zoabi, December 9, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Marzel, who’s 4th spot on the newly formed Yachad party would have likely seen him voted into the Knesset should current polling numbers hold, called his disqualification, “gagging by the left-wing.”

“The left that fought against disqualifying Zoabi supported my disqualification,” he told Ynet News. “Everyone who thinks that Zoabi is fine should go with her, everyone is in favor of Jewish law should come with us.”

Marzel, a Boston native who moved to Israel as an infant, has led marches of far-right activists through Arab towns and was affiliated with the now-banned Kach party founded by the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Since the Kach party was disqualified from participating in the 1993 elections, Marzel has run with several right-wing parties, but often failed to garner the necessary votes to enter the Knesset.

The Hebron resident has repeatedly made the news for his virulently nationalistic statements and hard-line stances against gays.

In 2014 the head of the left-wing organization “Peace Now,” Yariv Oppenheimer filed a police complaint against Marzel who, he claimed, encouraged supporters to harass and threaten him.

Yachad party head Eli Yishai lamented the decision to ban Marzel.

“I am saddened by the decision to disqualify a Jew that says he is not against Arabs, but rather against the enemies of Israel,” Yishai said. “The Left has again shown their hypocrisy.”

Yishai blamed the disqualification on “Meretz, the Arabs, Hatnua, Yesh Atid and Tzipi-Bouji,” but believes the High Court will overturn the decision.

The court has scheduled hearings for appeals by disqualified election candidates for Tuesday, February 17.

Zoabi is currently in the midst of a six-month ban from Knesset activities for comments she made seemingly in support of terror group Hamas over the summer.

She is also facing possible prosecution for accusing an Arab police officer of treason against his ethnic origins, a statement interpreted as a call for violence against Arab Israeli police officers.

Israel’s election laws forbid anyone who openly supports armed conflict against Israel or incites racism from running for Knesset. It is that law that forms the committee’s decision against their candidacy.

In July 2011, Zoabi was suspended from the Knesset for a day for hitting a Knesset usher attempting to remove her from the plenum during a heated debate.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) welcomed the decision to disqualify the Arab MK, saying she does not belong in the Knesset “or even in the Palestinian Authority…. I hope this time around the High Court of Justice does not repeat the mistake made with [fugitive lawmaker and suspected Hezbollah spy] Azmi Bishara and will not allow the supporter of terrorists and helper of the Marmara [Gaza flotilla] attackers to run as a candidate for the parliament of the Jewish state,” he said.

Liberman added: “Zoabi belongs with the terrorists from Hamas.”

Senior Likud lawmaker Yisrael Katz, who currently serves as the transportation minister, also praised the committee’s decision, calling Zoabi a “certified traitor.”

“Zoabi actively works against Israel, at home and abroad. She supports terror, and therefore her place is not in the Knesset of Israel,” he declared.

In a non-binding legal opinion submitted Wednesday to the elections committee, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was opposed to the disqualification of Knesset candidates from the political fringes, namely Zoabi and Marzel.

Weinstein said that while Zoabi had in the past made “worrying remarks” that could be interpreted as offering support for terrorism, the evidence against the lawmaker was not clear-cut and did not provide sufficient cause to deny her the right to stand for election.

The attorney-general issued a similar opinion regarding Marzel.

The center-left Zionist Union list, headed by Labor leader Isaac Herzog, supported Zoabi’s disqualification last week, but retracted the position earlier this week, and then announced a return to its original support for the disqualification on Wednesday.

The left-wing Meretz party criticized the elections committee’s decision and called Zionist Union’s support for Zoabi’s disqualification “an embarrassing kow-tow to the right-wing chorus. Those who want to be an alternative [to the right] must show public courage, especially in controversial matters,” a statement read.

“We disagree with many of MK Hanin Zoabi’s statements. But making people angry is not a cause for disqualification,” Meretz said. “The Knesset can be the home of voices beyond the consensus, and it’s a shame the [elections committee] turned the substantive debate into political theater.”

The centrist Yesh Atid party threw its support behind efforts to disqualify the two extremist Knesset hopefuls Wednesday.

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