The Israeli Supreme Court yesterday overruled a parliamentary panel which had barred the Arab parties United Arab List-Ta'al (UAL-Ta’al) and Balad from running for Knesset (parliament). The decision enables the two parties to run in the national elections scheduled for 10 February. The nine Supreme Court justices unanimously accepted the UAL-Ta'al appeal, while the Balad appeal was accepted by eight justices against one.
The two appeals were submitted by the Israeli-Arab rights group Adalah earlier this week. Adalah claimed that the decision to disqualify the parties was a violation of their rights. They also claimed it also ignored the legal opinion of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz that there was not enough evidence to justify preventing the participation of the parties in the Knesset elections. Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa: Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, called the decision part of a "fascist atmosphere that exists in the media and in political parties that is excluding the Arab community in Israel."
The original decision had been made in the heat of the Gaza conflict. Two ultra right parties Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union-National Religious Party requested the Arab parties be banned by the parliamentary Central Elections Committee (CEC) which comprises of members of all party factions. The CEC met on 12 January and ruled the parties ineligible to fight the elections on the grounds they did not recognise Israel and called for armed conflict against the state. Arab CEC members boycotted the vote and called the vote the actions of a “fascist, racist state”. Members of all three major parties (Kadima, Labour, Likud) voted to expel the parties.
However it was the ultra-right faction which was predictably unhappiest with the court’s overruling. Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman described it as "unfortunate” as it established no boundary to prevent Arab Knesset members from being disloyal to the state. He warned his party would continue the offensive. “[The ruling] gave the Arab parties license to kill the state of Israel as a Jewish democratic state," he said. “In the next Knesset, we will pass a citizenship law that will prevent the disloyalty of some of Israel's Arabs.”
However the left-wing non denominational Hadash party welcomed the judgement. Hadash Member of the Knesset (MK) Mohammad Barakeh said he had expected the decision. He wants to go down the opposite path to Avigdor Lieberman and deny the CEC the right to disqualify parties from running. This is not the first time that the CEC has attempted to ban the Arab parties, or the first time the court has overruled it. "It's a scenario that is renewed during every election, said Barakeh, “due to the hopes of Lieberman and those similar to him to recruit more anti-Arab members to the committee."
Israel is home to 1.4 million Islamic and Christian Arabs who form about 20 percent of the total population. But they are represented by only 8 percent of parliament with just ten 10 Arabs in the 120-seat Knesset. Balad holds three of those seats. It was formed in 1995 in order to create political awareness within the Arab sector in Israel and oppose the 1993 Oslo Accords.
UAL-Ta’al was established around the same time as Balad and now holds four seats. It has similar goals to Balad and calls for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Both parties now hope that the indignation over their ban and the general conduct of the Gaza war will result in a strong Arab turnout at the ballot box. UAL-Ta’al leader and MK Ahmed Tibi described the ruling as a rallying call for his party. “This battle is not yet complete because racism has now become the mainstream in Israel,” he said. “We will finish this operation in Israel on the day of elections."