Israeli Left-wing Alliance Split Over Disqualification of Arab-Israeli Parliamentarian

Labor asks for banning 34-year-old Heba Yazbak from running in elections over controversial comments made on social media ■ Meretz disagrees

Labor's Amir Peretz and Meretz's Nitzan Horowitz at a joint campaign meeting, January 20, 2020
Tomer Appelbaum

The first rift has erupted in the newly formed left-wing electoral alliance of Labor-Gesher-Meretz, over support for the disqualification of Arab-Israeli MK Heba Yazbak.

Meretz will instruct its representatives in the Central Elections Committee to oppose the move, which Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz supports. Labor is considering instructing its representatives to vote for Yazbak’s disqualification.

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Likud submitted the request to bar 34-year-old Yazbak, saying she negates Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state and supports the armed struggle of a terror organization.

“I’m not comfortable reading her words on Facebook, but disqualifying a law-abiding citizen from running is like rewarding those defaming Israeli democracy,” tweeted Meretz MK Yair Golan. He called for focusing on disqualifying what he called violent and lawbreaking groups that confront soldiers and policemen all the time. “In a democracy you disqualify people for their actions, not for Facebook posts,” he added.

MK Itzik Shmuli of the Labor Party said he supported disqualifying Yazbak. “The law forbids someone who negates Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic country from running for the Knesset, and, even more so, someone who supports terror in words or deeds,” he said.

MK Ofir Katz of Likud submitted the petition to the Central Elections Committee on Monday. It will be debated next week. Kahol Lavan is expected to support the request; the party considered filing a separate request to disqualify Yazbak.

The Central Elections Committee is a cross-party forum in which the factions represented in the Knesset express their positions. Its decisions to disqualify candidates are symbolic, since they immediately go to the High Court of Justice, which holds hearings based on evidence presented by both sides.

The Likud request quoted a series of controversial remarks by Yazbak on social media. They included the hailing of Samir Kuntar as a “fighting martyr” after his death. Kuntar spent nearly three decades in an Israeli prison for carrying out one of the most notorious terror attacks in Israeli history, which included the brutal murders of a young man and his 4-year-old daughter. Kuntar was released in a prisoner swap in 2008 and killed in an Israeli airstrike near Damascus in 2015. Yazbak also congratulated a Hezbollah spy after his release from prison.

The request quotes Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut as having hinted in August that the court might have disqualified Yazbak had that request been made against her, rather than against her entire Balad party. Balad is part of the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties.

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

Before the April election, the court rejected a decision by the election panel, backed by Kahol Lavan, to ban Joint List components Ra’am and Balad, as well as Hadash MK Ofer Cassif, from running. “The Knesset should not contain the most extremist elements,” Kahol Lavan said at the time.

Despite Kahol Lavan’s position, the Joint List, with Balad abstaining, recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Benny Gantz be asked to form a coalition after the September election. MK Ahmad Tibi said this week that Kahol Lavan support for Yazbak’s disqualification would be “a serious and negative development, outflanking Likud from the right,” and noted that the High Court did not disqualify her Balad party in August.