High Court overturns decision barring Arab MK Zoabi from running for Knesset

High Court overturns decision barring Arab MK Zoabi from running for Knesset

Balad legislator says decision to allow candidacy won’t erase bitter enmity between her and other lawmakers; Likud MK Akunis expresses chagrin over verdict

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

Hanin Zoabi (center) and Jamal Zahalka (left) at the High Court of Justice (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hanin Zoabi (center) and Jamal Zahalka (left) at the High Court of Justice (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Arab MK Hanin Zoabi will be on Balad’s slate in the upcoming Knesset election, the High Court of Justice ruled Sunday, overturning a decision by the Central Election Committee.

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. MK Ofir Akunis of the Likud, who had pressed for her disqualification in the election committee, expressed his displeasure at the verdict,

The judges’ arguments were to be released at a different date, but the verdict was published early in accordance with the country’s election laws and regulations.

The petition against Zoabi, which was spearheaded by Akunis, claimed that the parliamentarian had undermined the state and its institutions, including the IDF, by participating in the Mavi Marmara flotilla that tried to breach the Israeli-imposed maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010.

“The decision proves the attempts to disqualify me were political and personal persecution against me, my party and the whole Arab sector,” Zoabi 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.” She added that the court’s ruling proved once again that the earlier decision of the Central Election Committee was a political one that “allowed politicians to disqualify their opponents over ideological differences.”

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

“The most important thing in Israel’s democracy is accepting laws made by the Knesset,” Akunis said. “The Basic Law states that someone who took an active part in action against the state can’t take part in the country’s elections.”

Because of the delicate nature of the discussion and the potentially far-reaching implications of the decision, the hearing, which took place on Thursday, featured an extended panel of nine judges headed by the court’s president, Asher Grunis.

After the hearing Thursday, there was an exchange of curses and shouting between Zoabi and hawkish politicians, with MK Michael Ben-Ari (Otzma Leyisrael) and other right-wingers calling her a “traitor” and a “terrorist.” The confrontation verged on physical violence.

In the original decision, the Central Elections Committee turned back requests to disqualify the entire Balad party along with Zoabi, as well as calls to ban the United Arab List party on the one hand, and the hawkish Otzma Leyisrael on the other.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has written that there are not sufficient grounds to disqualify any of the candidates in the January 22 elections.

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