Israel Bans Arab Parties From Running in Upcoming Elections

Israeli Arab MK Tibi: This is a trial led by fascists and racists who want to see the country without Arabs.

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The Central Elections Committee (CEC) yesterday banned the Arab parties United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad from running in next month's parliamentary elections amid accusations of racism from Arab MKs. Both parties intend to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.

Members of the CEC conceded yesterday that the chance of the Supreme Court's upholding the ban on both parties was slim.

Arab faction delegates in the CEC walked out of the hall before the vote, shouting, "this is a fascist, racist state." As they walked out, CEC deputy chairman MK David Tal (Kadima) and the Arab delegates pushed each other and a Knesset guard had to intervene and separate them.

The CEC voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motions, accusing the country's Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist.

The requests to ban the Arab parties were filed by two ultra right parties Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union-National Religious Party.

Senior Labor Party figures lashed out at the party's CEC representative, Eitan Cabel, who voted in favor of banning the two Arab parties.

"[MK] Shelly Yachimovich and I thought we must object to the move to ban the Arab lists for reasons of freedom of expression," said Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog. "The minority's right to be heard must be preserved," he said.

MK Ophir Pines (Labor) said from overseas that he strongly objected to Labor's stance in the vote and that it was not the position that had been agreed on.

Labor chairman Ehud Barak, however, did not comment on the vote and his aides said he would not deal with political issues these days.

Cabel tried to explain his support of the ban, despite Labor's decision to vote against it.

"It's true we said we wouldn't ban, but [Balad leader MK Jamal] Zahalka's statement that he was in touch with Bishara led me to think that we must draw the line somewhere," he said. "I'm making no apologies because I fight more than most in the Knesset for equal rights for Arabs. I know it won't stand up in the Supreme Court, and rightly so, because there is no evidentiary basis for the [committee's] decision."

Members of the the new Meretz alignment reacted angrily to the decision.

"Labor and Kadima's position is a declaration of war on Israel's Arab citizens," a party member said. "Do Barak and Livni really prefer blocking Israel's Arabs' right to parliamentary activity and driving them to street demonstrations?"

"Every time a clear statement to ensure basic civil rights of the Arab minority is required, Labor and Kadima choose to side with the radical right wing for populist motives, to deprive the Arabs of their fundamental democratic rights," party chairman Haim Oron said.

Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning yesterday's decision.

"It was a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs," said Tibi.

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