Israeli election panel disqualifies Arab, ultranationalist candidates

Israeli panel disqualifies an Arab lawmaker and ultranationalist Jewish candidate from running for parliament

Israel’s central elections committee Thursday disqualified a firebrand Arab lawmaker and a Jewish ultranationalist candidate from running for parliament next month on grounds of supporting terror and racism.

The 34-member committee, headed by Supreme Court Justice Saleem Jubran but otherwise made up of politicians representing the factions in parliament, disqualified lawmaker Haneen Zoabi and candidate Baruch Marzel after hours of fiery debate.

Israeli law permits barring candidates on specific conditions: actively negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against Israel by an enemy state or terror organization.

Decisions on disqualifying candidates must be approved by the nation's Supreme Court, which has overturned similar decisions in the past.

Atty. Gen. Yehuda Weinstein had previously issued a legal opinion that the two controversial candidates should be permitted to run for lack of sufficient evidence to prove allegations in either case, despite fierce criticism of both.

Marzel is a veteran far-right activist who was a follower of Meir Kahane, a U.S.-born rabbi and Israeli extremist whose anti-Arab ideology and political movement was branded as racist and considered a terrorist organization in both countries.

Zoabi, a member of parliament seeking to run again for a seat in the Knesset, is known for pushing both the envelope as an Arab woman in Israeli politics and the limits of political tolerance. Her actions and statements in fierce defense of the Palestinian cause and her call for unconditional equality of Israel’s Arab minority have infuriated many Israeli Jews, who accuse her of exploiting Israel’s democracy to undermine the state.

The vote to bar Marzel was close, only one vote apart. An overwhelming majority voted to block Zoabi, including centrist parties that voted to block what they called both extremes.

The Coalition Against Racism in Israel, which petitioned to block Marzel, welcomed the committee’s decision as “principled, important and justified.” The coalition argued that there was no room in the Knesset, or parliament, for a disciple of Kahane.

The Likud party, one of the petitioners against Zoabi, expressed satisfaction with her disqualification.

“There is no place in Israel’s Knesset for supporters of terror and those who hate Israel,” the party said in a statement, adding that the ban was intended to “defend democracy in Israel from those exploiting it to harm the state.”

Both candidates expressed confidence the Supreme Court would overturn the decision.

“I will not retract any position or action of mine against the blockade, the occupation and systematic oppression,” Zoabi told the committee earlier. “I have strongly opposed killing civilians.… Why am I standing here and not those who called for bombing civilians in Gaza?”

In the past, Zoabi came close to losing her parliamentary immunity and standing trial over her participation in the 2010 flotilla running Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, but those efforts were blocked by the attorney general and the Supreme Court.

However, the Supreme Court recently upheld a controversial decision of the Knesset’s ethics committee to suspend her from parliament for six months for media statements that were considered provocative.

The Supreme Court will convene a nine-judge panel next week to issue a final ruling on the candidacies of Zoabi and Marzel.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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