Right-wing politicians slam court for allowing controversial MK to run for Knesset

Verdict supports a terrorist, charge hawkish parliamentarians; Arab legislator calls decision ‘just’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

MK Michael Ben-Ari yells at MK Hanin Zoabi 'Go to Syria' as she leaves the hall at the Supreme Court on Thursday (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Michael Ben-Ari yells at MK Hanin Zoabi 'Go to Syria' as she leaves the hall at the Supreme Court on Thursday (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Politicians from the right lashed out at the High Court on Sunday for allowing MK Hanin Zoabi to compete for a Knesset seat in the forthcoming national elections, saying it had become a “home court of the left.”

Zoabi, from the Arab Balad party, had been barred by the Knesset Election Committee last week for traveling aboard the ill-fated Gaza flotilla vessel Mavi Marmara, which was stopped by Israeli commandos before it could break the naval blockade on the Strip.

“Today the court decided to back the terrorist from the Marmara instead of Israel’s elite combat soldiers who were attacked with knifes and clubs by terrorists, under Zoabi’s umbrella of immunity,” MK Danny Danon from the Likud said. “Zoabi’s place is in jail.”

Zoabi said the decision to affirm her eligibility to run for parliament was a just one, but that it wouldn’t expunge the “violence” and threats she had experienced.

Her sharp critiques of Israel as a racist state also drew opprobrium from fellow legislators. MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Aryeh Eldad of the newly formed far-right Otzma Leyisrael party, which survived a similar attempt to bar them from the January elections, heavily criticized the verdict.

“The court has become the home court of the left, judges sit in the ivory tower and are disconnected from the people.”

The two Otzma Leyisrael legislators said “the message that Zoabi and her friends are receiving today was that they can continue to hurt the state, incite, instigate and carry out more flotillas. The High Court will continue to back them.”

A hearing over the matter at the court on Thursday devolved into fisticuffs between rightists and Zoabi defenders, with Ben-Ari in the middle of the fray.

On the left, Hadash MK Dov Khenin slammed his hawkish counterparts for trying to ban Zoabi.

“It’s worrying that the ruling party hurts the democratic values to gain a few more voters on the right,” he said

Hatnua head Tzipi Livni called on the parties to respect the court’s decision.

“I respect any decision by the court. I’m one of those people who respects decisions by the High Court of Justice,” she said. “This is the result and it must be respected, I sincerely hope that in today’s fight over who our authoritative source is — is it the law with the High Court as the interpreter, or is it Halacha with rabbis as interpreters — we all stand behind the High Court’s decision. Whether we like it or not — this is the outcome.”

Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who spearheaded the attempt to bar Zoabi from participating in the upcoming elections, said the Supreme Court had overturned the Knesset’s ability to govern.

“If judges just canceled a law that is one of the bases of Israel’s existence, then I can only be sorry,” he told Army Radio, noting he had yet to see the full verdict. ““I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart that this was the decision, but I’ll honor it.”

“The High Court of Justice doesn’t learn from its past mistakes,” Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely said. She was referring to a comment made by former Supreme Court judge Mishael Cheshin, who said earlier this month that he would have disqualified former Arab MK Azmi Bishara had he known he would turn out to be a spy for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Zoabi herself expressed satisfaction with the verdict but had only criticism for the process she had gone through. “The decision proves the attempts to disqualify me were political and personal persecution against me, my party and the whole Arab sector,” she said following the verdict. “For the duration of the process I was convinced my actions were just and knew there was no legal basis to disqualify me.”

The verdict, Zoabi said, “did not erase the threats, delegitimization and violence — both physical and verbal — that I experienced in and out of the Knesset over the past three years,” adding the court’s ruling proved once again that the earlier decision of the Central Election Committee to ban her had “allowed politicians to disqualify their opponents over ideological differences.”

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