Court Reverses Election Ban on Arab Parties

The High Court of Justice yesterday overruled a parliamentary panel which had decided to bar the Israeli Arab parties United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad from running in next month's parliamentary election.

The court ruled to accept a petition by Arab politicians against last week's decision by the Central Election Committee to ban their parties from running, with a minority opinion by Justice Edmond Levy. The reasons for the decision will be published at a later date.

The Central Election Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion last week, accusing the country's Arab parties of incitement, support for armed struggle against Israel and refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.

During the hearing, Justice Levy asked attorney Hassan Jabarin of the minority rights organization Adalah, who represented the banned parties, about a statement made by a Balad leader that the number of Jews in Israel should be limited to their number in 1948. "If that is so, then I must seek another country," Levy said sarcastically.

The attorney general's representative, attorney Dana Briskman, reiterated the position presented at the meeting of the Central Election Committee that the parties should not be banned in light of the previous High Court decision outlining the criteria for such disqualification.

MK Ibrahim Sarsur (United Arab List-Ta'al) said the ruling highlighted the political nature of the Central Election Committee's decision. MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) called the ruling "a defeat for [MK Avigdor] Lieberman and the fascist right, but also for Labor, Kadima and Likud, which supported the banning of Balad." Zahalka also said: "We call on everyone to support the idea of a state of all its citizens and sharing life equally without discrimination and racism."

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Lieberman yesterday said the ruling "gave the Arab parties license to kill the state of Israel as a Jewish democratic state," and added: "In the next Knesset, we will pass a citizenship law that will prevent the disloyalty of some of Israel's Arabs." The Orthodox party Habayit Hayehudi said: "Unfortunately, the Arab Knesset members will continue to act in the Knesset as a branch of Hezbollah and Hamas, led by Azmi Bishara and under the auspices of the High Court," referring to a Balad leader who remains abroad following his resignation from the Knesset in 2007 amid suspicions of security infractions.

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said "The time has come to stop government by the High Court. The judicial elite has decided to deride the public in Israel and prefers Azmi Bishara's Balad over the State of Israel."

The new Meretz movement said it was "happy that the Kahanism that has characterized that political establishment, including Kadima and Labor, hasn't reached the justice system," referring to the party of Meir Kahane, which was in fact banned from participating in parliamentary elections over its extreme right-wing views.

Science, Culture and Sports Minister Raleb Majadele said "The court did not give in to extremism and racism. MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) accused Labor and Kadima of "putting wind in the sails of dark, racist proposals."

Adalah said, following the ruling, that the law on parties running for the Knesset should be changed to "annul the possibility of banning a party because of its opposition to the definition of the state as Jewish and democratic, which as become a tool of incitement of the right against the Arab parties."