Israel High Court Allows Arab Lawmaker to Run for Knesset, Overrules Election Panel

Central Elections Committee barred Heba Yazbak from running in Israel’s election two weeks ago, claiming she had voiced support for a terrorist

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Heba Yazbak at Joint List headquarters, September 2019.
Heba Yazbak at Joint List headquarters, September 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The High Court approved Sunday Joint List MK Heba Yazbak's candidacy in the upcoming election, reversing the Central Election Committee's decision to bar the Arab lawmaker, on the grounds that she allegedly supports terrorism and denies Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. 

Israel's Central Elections Committee decided last month to bar Yazbak, of the Balad faction in the Joint List party, from running for the Israeli parliament over a social media post in which they claimed she expressed support for a terrorist.

The High Court also unanimously ruled Sunday to allow the party of the wife of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir, to run in the upcoming election. The new political party, whose name is Mishpatei Tzedek ("fair trials" in Hebrew), will promote criminal retrials, and will work to bring about the release of Amir. The judges wrote that Larisa Trembovler-Amir's statements and stated goals were "outrageous and disgusting," but that "disgust for the individual and a disqualification from running for the Knesset are separate things."

The High Court's decision regarding Yazbak passed with a majority of five judges voting in favor to four against.

The majority judges justified their decision by having little evidence, no repeated action, as well as the time elapsed since Yazbak's controversial statements. In addition, weight was given to her clarifications and statements in which she expressed remorse in relation to some of her statements. 

On the other hand, the minority opinion said that the evidence was clear and indicated support for terrorist acts. Regarding Yazbak's testimony, minority judges believed it was no less severe and disturbing than her initial statements.

In response to the decision, Yazbak said Sunday "The High Court's decision again shows that the disqualification request is part of the incitement against me and against the Arab community [in Israel] and its representatives – this request was not personal, but an integral part of the ongoing persecution and delegitimization. The Election Committee's decision to disqualify me was a political decision by a political committee, in which the parties competed in a rally against me and against members of the Joint List."

"We will continue to work towards ending the occupation and lifting the siege [on Gaza], for peace, and for equal and just citizenship. I continue to work full-time on the Joint List campaign to raise the percentage of voting and representation of the Arab community in the Knesset," concluded the lawmaker.

Balad faction leaders, including Yazbak, in Jerusalem, July 6, 2019.
Balad faction leaders, including Yazbak, in Jerusalem, July 6, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party condemned the High court's decision Sunday. "Shame. [Benny] Gantz has no government without the Joint List. After the decision today, those who want Heba in the opposition and not in the government must only vote for Likud."

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said the decision reflects the “crushing of the far-right’s incitement campaign in the face of legal reality.” He said those who supported Yazbak’s disqualification should be “ashamed of following Netanyahu and his Kahanist friends.” 

Mtanes Shehadeh, head of the Balad faction of the Joint List, said the fact that all parties with the exception of Meretz supported Yazbak’s disqualification shows that the Israeli political establishment is dashing to the right, and “is capable of violating the civil and political rights of the Arab public with dangerous ease.” He called the election panel’s decision to disqualify Yazbak “populist and undemocratic chaos.”

The decision to disqualify Yazbak from running in the March 2 election was made following a tense discussion, with a majority of 27 party representatives voting in favor, and only nine voting against the move; center-left alliance Democratic Union and Yazbak's own Joint List voted against. 

Yazbak told the committee that she expressed support for integrating former Palestinian prisoners into society and did not support terrorism.

The representative of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that Yazbak's claims were not convincing, but that she had apologized for sharing a Facebook post in which she called Samir Kuntar, a terrorist who was jailed in Israel for a notorious attack, a "martyr."

Haaretz published an opinion piece by Yazbak on Sunday in which she hit back at claims that previous remarks made by her were supportive of terrorism, stating that she had been criticizing the policy of targeted killings and not endorsing attacks. “I’m against harming human beings, period, and the attempt by extremists to claim that I’m in favor of hurting children or blowing up buses is absurd and disgusting,” she wrote.

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