Israeli court reverses ban on two controversial candidates

Israeli Supreme Court reverses elections panel decision blocking two candidates from running for parliament

Israel's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Arab lawmaker Haneen Zoabi and right-wing Jewish activist Baruch Marzel can run for parliamentary seats in next month's elections.

Eight of nine judges on an expanded panel voted to approve their candidacies, overturning last week's decision by the central elections committee to disqualify the pair from running.

Conservative Jewish politicians had petitioned the elections committee to bar Zoabi, a firebrand lawmaker whose controversial comments and actions on behalf of the Palestinian cause have angered many Israeli Jews and prompted accusations that she supported terrorism from within parliament.

Activists from the Coalition Against Racism had petitioned to block Marzel, an ultranationalist activist with ties to the late Meir Kahane, whose anti-Arab ideology and political activity were outlawed in Israel.

Israeli law allows the barring of citizens from running for the parliament, or Knesset, only under very specific conditions. Those include incitement to racism and support for armed struggle against Israel by an enemy state or a terrorist organization.

The central elections committee is headed by a Supreme Court judge but otherwise made up of lawmakers from the Knesset, which now has a conservative majority. Any decision by the panel to disqualify a candidate requires the approval of the Supreme Court, which typically overrules the political decisions.

Zoabi's attorney, Hassan Jabareen, welcomed the Supreme Court's decision. He denounced the elections committee for repeated attempts to bar Arab politicians, violating the Arab minority's basic right to "political participation, freedom of expression, equality and dignity."

Jabareen called for taking the decision fully out of the hands of politicians and entrusting this authority to the courts.

Zoabi said she was pleased that the court found her words and actions "within the confines of freedom of expression and the law."

Marzel's attorney, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said the court decision was only "half right," arguing that there was ample evidence to disqualify Zoabi. He called the attempt to block Marzel "a petty petition on the part of the extreme left, which doesn't understand what democracy is."

Elyakim Rubinstein was the sole judge to vote for blocking Zoabi for supporting terrorism and Marzel for racism. "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then what is it?" he asked.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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