Editorial

This Arab Lawmaker Poses a Challenge to Israeli Democrats

Arab lawmaker Heba Yazbak speaks at the Knesset, Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

Hearings on requests to disqualify Arab Knesset slates and candidates can be counted on during every election cycle. On Wednesday the Central Elections Committee will hear the requests to disqualify MK Heba Yazbak of the Joint List, a member of the Balad party. The requests, submitted by Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Otzma Yehudit, are based on Section 7A of the Basic Law on the Knesset, which deals with “support for armed struggle by an enemy state or a terror organization against the State of Israel.”

Support for an armed struggle is a serious accusation, and one would hope that those trying to attribute this to Yazbak would be equipped with more than a few social media posts, most of which were written years before she became an MK. Indeed, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit declared Monday that there was no evidentiary basis for disqualifying her candidacy. But in the nation state of the Jewish people, Arabs are terrorists unless proven otherwise.

“I’m against harming human beings, period, and the attempt by extremists to claim that I’m in favor of harming children or blowing up buses is absurd and disgusting,” Yazbek wrote on this page yesterday. Her words leave no room for doubting that she denounces terror.

Mendelblit asked Yazbek this week to clarify remarks she made to Channel 13 so he could formulate his opinion. To the question, “Do you think that harming soldiers or the chief of General Staff is part of reasonable and legitimate opposition to the occupation?” she had answered, “International law itself allows nations under occupation to act for their liberation. What’s not legitimate is the continued occupation.” In an affidavit to Mendelblit, she said, “The statement that people are permitted to work for their liberation is a universal statement in keeping with international law, because every people is entitled to self-determination. But there is nothing in the universal position that I expressed … any support whatsoever for using violence.”

Those who seek to disqualify Yazbek want her to declare loyalty not just to the Israeli Knesset but also to the Israeli occupation and the Israeli army, even as it harms her people. Every Israeli who isn’t lying to himself understands that this demand has no place in Israel’s complex reality.

Balad in general and Yazbek in particular pose a challenge to Israeli democrats when they demand full equality between Arabs and Jews. This demand involves yielding the privileges enjoyed by the Jews in their state and is perceived as a threat to Israel’s character and its role as a refuge for the Jewish people.

This is indeed a challenge, and the Knesset is the place to contend with it. The attempt to prevent this debate in the Knesset by disqualifying candidates is unfair and in itself undermines the democratic rules of the game. It is deeply regrettable – all the more so in light of Mendelblit’s expressed opinion – that Kahol Lavan and Labor-Gesher are considering support for the disqualification, which plays into the hands of the anti-democratic forces in the Knesset and in the country.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.