Israel's High Court: Protecting the Tyranny of the Majority

It’s a striking paradox: The court gets upset over MK Haneen Zoabi’s call for a diplomatic siege on Israel, but not over Israel’s military siege on Gaza.

Saja Abu Fanni
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) at the Knesset, October 28, 2014. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Saja Abu Fanni

The various media outlets were amazed at the High Court of Justice’s hearing on the petition submitted by MK Haneen Zoabi, in which challenged the Knesset’s six-month suspension of her participation in parliamentary debates and committees. A look at the minutes of the hearing gives a good idea of the marketplace atmosphere that prevailed there.

And as long as we are talking about the marketplace, then, as the popular saying goes, the boss had gone insane. Judge Esther Hayut asks Zoabi’s attorney: “Sir, do you have an example from the South African parliament, someone in the parliament there who proposed a diplomatic siege on Africa?”

Hello – is this the High Court of Justice? Would someone please explain to Her Honor that apartheid does not exist in Israel yet and that Arabs can be elected to the Knesset?

But going back 25 years in time, to the apartheid era, is not all that much worse than the atmosphere that prevailed during the hearing, which was a kind of regression of hundreds of years, with its sharp disputes over a word here and a parenthetical note there. The spirit of an inquisition reigned. The judges wished to know what was behind the word “siege,” which MK Zoabi wrote in one of her articles, and whether it referred to a military siege. Honestly, Judge Hanan Meltzer, are the armies of Arabia gathered about us, awaiting Zoabi’s order to charge?

This whole issue is a metaphor, after all, and that seems to be the problem of the learned judges, who are disconnected from the Middle East. They do not understand the local language or its metaphors. Anyone living here, and every reader of Arabic, understands that Zoabi was referring to the Israeli government’s political isolation. That might explain the fact that Judge Salim Joubran, the sole Arab judge in the High Court of Justice, was a minority of one in supporting the lawmaker’s petition.

Judge Elyakim Rubinstein wondered about Zoabi’s call for “imposing a siege on the State of Israel instead of holding negotiations with it.” Here is one righteous man who believes in Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, many Israeli Jews are convinced that only international pressure, which translates to an economic, diplomatic and academic boycott, will shake the Israelis out of their complacency and get them to start thinking about the neighbor behind the fences.

It is a striking paradox. This commotion is going on just as Israel is imposing a siege on the Gaza Strip by sea, air and land. If the mukhtars complain to Israeli judges, who are shocked by the word “siege,” they will approve, as they usually did in the past, everything that the representative of the occupation asked for.

This is the way things are here. A word or an incident is taken out of context and a theory constructed. When the killing of Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Ein was reported last week, the world’s television stations showed troops striking an elderly Palestinian man and throwing him to the ground, and then showed the elderly man getting up holding a club to strike them. Here, Channel Two showed only the second part, in which the elderly man tries to hit the soldiers.

This is the story of the Palestinians. They are shown only in the second part of the movie. That is also what happened in Gaza; the first part, where the closure was imposed, was erased, but the mortar shells were left in.

If the case of the killing of the Palestinian minister should reach the High Court of Justice, we can assume that the judges will be amazed at how an elderly man attended demonstrations at all. After all, as everybody knows, demonstrations are for muscular athletes who can survive suffocating blows from soldiers. Maybe the Knesset will hurry up and pass a law prohibiting people over 50 from attending demonstrations.

Judges are the refuge of the weak, whom they are supposed to protect from the tyranny of the majority. After the High Court of Justice’s hearing on Zoabi’s petition, the Arabs had better ask the Likud Central Committee to protect them. Maybe the committee members will be more merciful. In the meantime, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can call freely for the transfer of Jaffa’s Arabs. After all, we have the High Court of Justice, which is already living several steps into the future. Ahlan, apartheid – welcome.