Court: MKs Tibi, Bishara and Far-right Activist Marzel Can Run

Supreme Court also rules that Balad can run, but upholds decisions to bar Likud candidates Mofaz and Feiglin from competing in election.

A panel of 11 Supreme Court justices on Thursday overturned the Central Elections Committee's decisions to disqualify Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bishara and the Balad party from running in the January 28 election. The court also upheld the decisions to allow far-right activist Baruch Marzel to run, and to disqualify Likud candidates Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Feiglin.

The justices unanimously voted to uphold Mofaz's disqualification and to reverse that of Tibi and Marzel. Only one justice, Edmund Levy, opposed Feiglin's disqualification.

Seven justices supported allowing Bishara and the Balad party to run in the election, while four were opposed: Shlomo Levin, Tova Strasberg-Cohen, Yaacov Turkel and Levy.

In Marzel's case, the judges also split 7-4, with Levin, Strasberg-Cohen, Dorit Beinisch and Ayala Procaccia presenting a minority opinion

The panel was headed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak.

Ahmed Tibi told Army Radio that he was extremely pleased with the decision and praised the Court for "blocking the anti-democratic avalanche of the right-wing."

"It is not easy to be an Arab in the state of Israel, especially over the past two years, and especially the last few weeks," he also said.

MK Azmi Bishara said at a press conference after the ruling was announced that "There was no legal aspect whatsoever to the (original CEC) decision." Bishara also accused the right-wing political parties of presenting the original complaints against the Arab candidates in order to get publicity.

Although disappointed with the ruling, Moshe Feiglin told Army Radio that he was happy that "the same body that approved the candidacies of those responsible for the murder of Jews didn't approve my candidacy."

In wake of the decision, Shweki Khatib, chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, called on Arab citizens to participate in the upcoming elections.

"The court carried out justice today by reinstating the Arab candidates," he said. "I now call on the entire Arab public to give their answer at the ballot box ...and to change the government.

The court's most sensitive rulings concerned the Arab politicians. The CEC disqualified Balad and Bishara for rejecting Israel's character as a Jewish state, in violation of the Basic Law on the Knesset. The CEC also contended that in speeches delivered in Syria and Umm al-Fahm, Bishara supported armed resistance by terror groups. Rubinstein supported the CEC's decision on Balad and Bishara, but he rejected its disqualification of Tibi over his public support for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

Balad has scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning in Jerusalem. If the High Court had decided to uphold the party's disqualification, Bishara was expected to call on supporters to boycott the January 28 elections.

Hadash-Ta'al members expressed confidence Wednesday night that the Supreme Court would overturn Tibi's disqualification. The decision, Tibi said Wednesday night, will mark the "real beginning of the campaign."

Mofaz's petition protested the CEC's decision to disqualify him from the Likud list because he will not have completed the mandatory six-month cooling-off period after his army discharge by Election Day on January 28. Feiglin was seeking to overturn the CEC's disqualification due to a past conviction on incitement charges (those convicted of serious offenses are barred by law from running for Knesset for seven years).

A minority of CEC members object to the committee's decision to allow Marzel's candidacy on the grounds that he has abandoned his Kahanist beliefs. Kahanism has been designated a racist creed whose upholders are banned from the Knesset under the Basic Law on the Knesset. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein supports Marzel's disqualification.