Gantz's Party Expected to Back Request to Ban Arab Lawmaker From Running in Election

Heba Yazbak under fire after hailing convicted killer of Israeli family as a 'martyr' ■ If committee votes to disqualify her, High Court will debate issue

Heba Yazbak speaks at the Knesset, May 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Kahol Lavan party is likely to support a request to bar Israeli Arab lawmaker Heba Yazbak of the Joint List from running for reelection on March 2 over a Facebook post that hailed a convicted killer of an Israeli family in an attack in the late 1970s as a “fighting martyr.”

The request to ban Yazbak, which the Likud party is expected to hand in to the Central Elections Committee this week, accuses her of “negating Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state and supportive of the armed struggle of a terrorist group against Israel.”

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Sources in Kahol Lavan said they intend to support the request.

The request may be a first test case for the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance: Some of its members would probably agree with rejecting Yazbak’s candidacy, while others would oppose her dismissal.

It’s not clear whether all three parties in the new alliance will vote as one in the committee, given that they each have their own representatives based on the results of the last election held in September.

The Central Elections Committee is a political organization, so any decision to disqualify Yazbak would have only symbolic meaning, as it would then face the High Court of Justice, which would debate the issue on the basis of evidence brought by both sides.

Just before the election held last April, the court rejected a decision by the election panel, backed by Kahol Lavan, to ban Hadash lawmaker Ofer Cassif as well as two member factions of the Joint List, Ra’am and Balad, from running again for office.

“The Knesset shouldn’t count among its members the most extreme extremists,” Kahol Lavan said at the time. Despite its position, with the exception of Balad, Joint List members threw their support behind Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz for prime minister in consultations with President Reuven Rivlin after the September election.

Yazbak responded that “all the claims in [Likud’s] statement have been discussed and rejected, both by the Central Elections Committee and the High Court. This is a request to ban a candidate with a populistic aim and as an attempt to delegitimize. I will continue to work for justice, and political and civil justice, against the occupation, racism, discrimination and incitement.”

Hadash said that “the attempt to ban Yazbak as a candidate is part of a delegitimization campaign against the Arabs and their elected officials due to the political weight and influence that they have. Kahol Lavan’s position shows a right-wing trend, instead of providing a political alternative” to the current government.

Balad Chairman Mtanes Shehadeh told Haaretz that “support for Kahol Lavan in the disqualification effort would be further proof of its being a right-wing party masquerading as a centrist party, and which keeps failing time after time. Their opposition will render it more difficult to support Kahol Lavan after the election.”

“There’s a delegitimization campaign against the entire Arab public underway and its right to nationalist representation,” the chairman added.

Lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, the Joint List’s party whip in the Knesset, said that “any Kahol Lavan support for barring Yazbak would be a serious development and a negative one, and amount to a step to the right of Likud. All the claims made against Yazbak have been rejected by the Central Elections Committee and were heard in court.”

The Likud request is the first time it is seeking to personally ban Yazbak from running. Likud lawmaker Ofir Katz is expected to present various controversial remarks Yazbak made on social media, such as the one referring to the terrorist as a “fighting martyr” and another Facebook post in which she welcomed the release of a convicted spy for Hezbollah from prison.

The request to ban her also quotes High Court Justice Esther Hayut as having hinted in a decision last August that the court may have disqualified Yazbak from running had a request been made against her personally, rather than against her entire Balad party.

Lawmaker Itzik Shmuli, Labor party whip in the Knesset, said he will seek to disqualify the new Mishpat Tzedek (“fair trial” in Hebrew) party, headed by the wife of Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The party seeks to free Amir from prison.

Shmuli has accused Amir of being personally involved in organizing the party from behind bars.