The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a decision to disqualify fringe Knesset candidates Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List and Baruch Marzel of the Yachad party from participating in the upcoming general elections.
Zoabi and Marzel were barred last week by the Central Elections Committee from participating in the March 17 elections for allegedly violating Israeli election law, citing the extremist views held by both candidates – Marzel for alleged anti-Arab racism and Zoabi for alleged support for Hamas and opposition to Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
In both cases, eight Supreme Court justices voted to allow the controversial figures to run, while justice Elyakim Rubinstein sought to uphold the ban.
The court did not announce the reasoning behind the ruling and said a full decision would be released by later this month.
Lawyers for Zoabi, an MK originally with the Balad party known for her firebrand anti-Zionist statements, hailed the ruling.
“This is not the first time politicians have tried to disqualify Arab MKs for reasons of racism and political motivations,” a statement from her attorneys said. “We are aware that this inflammatory atmosphere is what created an image of MK Zoabi that is far from reality. With that, we recognize that our political struggle is outside the boundaries of the consensus, and even challenges it, and we view this as our natural democratic right.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman condemned the decision, and said the ruling was “a mark of disgrace against Israeli democracy” and termed it “outrageous” and “regrettable.”
Anyone “with a pair of eyes knows that Zoabi violated the law against those supporting terror and the armed struggle against Israel, or those denying the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state serving in its parliament,” he said.
Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Gal also came out strongly against the ruling.
“Unfortunately, the court gave a green light to the continued incitement of Hanin Zoabi,” he said in a statement. “Now there is a legal stamp of approval for her strong statements and radical behavior against the state of Israel and the IDF,” he said in a statement. “Too bad that this is the message to all the supporters of terrorism and collaborator with terrorism and inciters.”
Marzel simply wrote “We won!” on his Facebook page in response to the decision.
On Tuesday, Zoabi said in court: “My struggle is for justice, against those who persecute my community.
“They weren’t able to disqualify me last time, and will not succeed now,” she continued, referring to a decision to disqualify her ahead of the 2013 elections that was overturned by the court.
She is currently running in the seventh slot on the Joint Arab List — a merger of the Knesset’s former Arab parties plus the Arab-Jewish party Hadash — is predicted to garner some 12 seats in the upcoming elections.
According to her attorney, Hassan Jabrin, Zoabi was disqualified over misattributed and inaccurately quoted statements. During the hearing, he argued that Zoabi was not guilty of any criminal offenses, and said that the four statements that led to her disqualification were mere hearsay.
Jabrin also argued that the decision to ban Zoabi resulted from anti-Arab discrimination and election politics.
“Some of the voters [in the Central Elections Committee] take into consideration the fact the Supreme Court will interfere, so they vote against Arab MKs,” Jabrin said, according to Ynet. “There’s a consensus against Arab politics in Israel and it’s a phenomenon that repeats itself.”
Zoabi is currently in the midst of a six-month ban from Knesset activities for comments she made last summer that appeared to indicate support for the terror group Hamas. She is also facing a prospective trial 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.
But Jabrin told Israel Radio that under a potential plea deal reached by Zoabi and the State Attorney’s Office, his client would not be charged with incitement to violence stemming from her controversial statements. However, he said, state prosecutors would still indict Zoabi on charges of insulting a public official.
In the courtroom Tuesday, activists from the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party shouted “terrorist” at Zoabi. A clash broke out when Zoabi’s supporters shouted back at the activists, prompting the court’s security personnel to remove both groups.
Marzel, who’s fourth spot on the newly formed Yachad party could see him voted into the Knesset, according to recent polls, has led marches of far-right activists through Arab towns and was affiliated with the now-banned Kach party, founded by the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Marzel’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, said that Marzel was no longer associated with Kahane’s ideology. The attorney for the Central Elections Committee countered that even if Marzel had changed, he had yet to publicly disavow the sweeping anti-Arab sentiments that characterize Kahane’s followers.
In a document filed to the court, Ben Gvir said that there was “no comparison between Marzel and Zoabi. Marzel is a faithful Jew and Zionist who loves Israel, while Zoabi harms IDF soldiers and seeks to destroy the Jewish State.”
Marzel has run with several right-wing parties, but often failed to garner the necessary votes to enter the Knesset. The American-born resident of Hebron, in the West Bank, has repeatedly made the news for his virulently nationalistic statements and hard-line stances on homosexuality.
The Central Elections Committee approved Zoabi’s disqualification by a margin of 27 votes in favor to six against, while Marzel’s was passed by just 17 votes to 16.
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 a non-binding legal opinion submitted to the election committee, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was opposed to the disqualification of Knesset candidates from the political fringes.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.