Israel’s Attorney General Says No Basis to Disqualify Arab Lawmaker From Election Run

In response to a request for clarification from Attorney General Mendelblit, Joint List Knesset member Hiba Yazbak said she had not called for violence against Israeli soldiers or civilians

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

In response to a petition seeking to have Joint List Knesset member Heba Yazbak disqualifed from running in the March 2 Knesset election for statements that made to Channel 13 television, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's office filed a brief Monday stating that "in light of her statements and clarifications," there is no evidence justifying her disqualification from running in the election.

The requests to disqualify Yazbak were based in part a section of the Basic Law on the Knesst that states that a party or person cannot be a candidate for the Knesset if they express “support for armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Haaretz

Mendelblit's brief also expressed opposition to a request by the far-right Otzma Yehudit party to disqualify the entire Joint List slate from running in the electiion.

On Monday, Yazbak said she stood by her assertion that the Israeli occupation is illegitimate but she said she had never called for violence or expressed support for attacks on soldiers or civilians. Monday's comments followed a request by Mendelblit to clarify her remarks in the interview. 

Although the attorney general's position is that the statements didn't cross the line, the brief asserts that they came close. 

"Some of the evidence that has been presented involves severe and disgusting statements, including some that imply identification with abominable terrorists who have committed terrorist acts and have murdered a large number of Israeli civilians, including children," the brief from Mendelblit's office stated, and "come extremely close to the line of what is prohibited," but the evidence does not provide the "critical evidentiary mass" that would be the basis for disqualifying Yazbak.

With regard to her comments on terrorists Samir Kuntar and Dalal Mugharbi, Yazbak said "neither of those posts was meant to express support for their actions."

Yazbak, who represents the Balad party in the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, was asked by Channel 13 whether she viewed harming soldiers as a legitimate action, and replied: “International law itself allows peoples that are under occupation to act for their liberation” and added: “What is illegitimate is the continuation of the occupation.”   

The Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Otzma Yehudit parties asked the Central Elections Committee to bar her from running in the March 2 election over her response. The Central Elections Committee is expected to conduct a hearing on the request on Wednesday.

On Monday, Yazbak said in a statement that "from my statements in the interview, it is clear that I did not say I support or call for harming soldiers or any person."

But she said she stood by her response: "I stand behind the two sentences that I said. In fact, the assertion that peoples are permitted to act for their liberation expresses a universal statement  in accordance with international law that every people is entitled to self-determination. But there is nothing in the universal position that I expressed calling for or supporting the use of violence."

Yazak said her comments were part of a discussion of the occupation "to remind people that this is the main problem that Israeli public discourse ignores." She added that she is seeking to end the occupation and achieve peace through political means and that in her view, "this is the only way to end the suffering and bloodshed."

Yazbak also wrote that "there is broad agreement among many in Israel and the world that the only way to end the violence is ending the occupation."

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.

The Election Committee will also consider a request to disqualify the Mishpat Zedek party, founded by Larisa Trembovler, the wife of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir. The request was submitted by the Labor-Gesher slate.