Hanin Zoabi: Trying To Bring Rare Justice To Israel
(CHICAGO) –Instances indeed are rare. An important one deserves mention. In mid-July 2010, Knesset members stripped MK Hanin Zoabi of key parliamentary rights and privileges.
They did so for participating in the May 2010 Freedom Flotilla. She joined others trying to bring vital humanitarian aid to Gaza. Lunatic fringe MK’s targeted her. They oppose doing the right thing.
Hardline MKs called her a traitor. She’s repeatedly vilified and threatened. On Dec. 18, Israel’s Central Election Committee (CEC) disqualified her from seeking re-election.
Israeli Basic Law requires Supreme Court justices rule on whether political candidates may be disqualified. More below on their Zoabi decision.
She’s a Balad party member. They fraudulently claimed she violated Israeli Basic Law. It says anyone denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish state can’t serve in parliament. Nor can others favoring terrorism and armed struggle.
Zoabi serves honorably and legitimately. Charges against her are baseless. At issue is challenging her humanitarian priorities. Nineteen CEC members approved disqualification. Nine voted against. One abstained.
Disqualifying her is lawless. Israel’s Supreme Court had final say. It overturned most previous attempts to disqualify candidates. More on how it ruled below.
Deputy speaker Danny Danon said if Zoabi stands for re-election, Knesset members will change Israeli law. He added that she belongs in prison, not parliament.
MK hardliner Michael BenAri said if justices didn’t disqualify her she’d “throw a bomb in the Knesset.” If they let her run, he’d “send them all to Gaza.” They can serve “under (Hamas leader Ismail) Haniyah.”
He added that “anyone who participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla is a criminal. To our great regret, this is a court that legitimized (former Balad MK) Azmi Bishara.”
In March 2007, he left Israel. He did so because of unjust allegations against him. They were baseless. Charges and indictment never followed.
He was targeted for being Muslim in Israel’s Knesset. Racist discrimination is institutionalized. Zoabi was vilified before. She’s threatened again now.
BenAri wants her imprisoned. He scuffled with her physically. He shames democratic governance. So do dozens of other likeminded MKs.
Run for office
In late December, they reacted before the High Court’s Sunday decision. Clashes erupted. They included verbal and physical confrontations.
They occurred after Israel’s High Court heard a petition against prohibiting Zoabi from seeking re-election in January.
More than two dozen MK hardliners physically blocked her from leaving. They pushed and scuffled with her entourage. They yelled insults.
“You disgusting terrorist, go to Syria,” they shouted. “We’ll send you to Gadhafi.” It was a thinly veiled threat to kill her. “Go to Gaza,” they added.
Scuffling continued until Court guard personnel intervened. They protected Zoabi. She escorted her to safety.
On Dec. 30, High Court justices ruled. Unanimously they overturned efforts to disqualify Zoabi. She’s free to seek re-election.
Many Supreme Court decisions violate fundamental international rule of law principles. Sunday they ruled responsibly.
Likud MK Yariv Levine condemned them. “Unless Zoabi blows herself up in the Knesset, (they) won’t understand that she has no place there,” he said.
Other lunatic fringe MKs express similar views. They reflect deplorable Israeli governance. It’s hardline, racist, anti-democratic, destructive, institutionalized and embarrassing.
It mocks legitimacy. Dominant hardliners are rogue legislators. They represent despotism, not democracy. They hold supreme power. They’ll likely keep it in January elections. Israelis aren’t wise enough to replace them.
In response to Israel’s CEC ruling, Zoabi said, “The decision is a result of political vindictiveness and a pathetic attempt to harm the representative of the Arab public.”
She’s convinced that “the struggle for full equality is the only way to achieve democracy.”
Israel’s CEC “blatantly ignored the attorney general’s unequivocal opinion that there is no legal basis for the disqualification.”
“It is now clear that the elections committee is a political body meant to harm the representatives of the Arab public, and has nothing to do with democracy.
“Instead of holding a public debate, they wish to silence me, and with me a whole demographic. We will not cooperate with such silencing.
“Attempts to disqualify me are an attack on everybody who is against the occupation.”
Support and opposition
Balad party chairman Jamal Zahalka called CEC’s decision “neither lawful nor democratic, but is part of the extreme right’s election campaign.”
It’s a “harsh blow to the entire Arab public.” They’re 20 percent of Israel’s population. They’re denied equal rights. They’re vilified for not being Jewish. They’re considered a fifth column threat.
Anti-democratic CEC members want Arabs excluded from Knesset membership. They want Jewish exclusivity.
“We unequivocally support Zoabi and all her activities,” Zahalka added. “We repeat and emphasize that if the High Court of Justice does not overturn this decision,” Balad won’t stand in January elections.
“Moreover, we call for revocation of the committee’s authority to disqualify politicians, inasmuch as it has long since become an undemocratic political tool.”
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein opposed petitioning against Zoabi’s right to serve.
He claimed “no sufficient, exceptional critical mass of evidence” to disqualify her candidacy. He stopped short of calling efforts to do so lawless and racist.
Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel General Director, Hassan Jabareen, represented Zoabi. He said prior High Court disqualification rejections “show (they’re) meant to foster delegitimization of Arab elected officials.”
He added that disqualifying her for “armed conflict” has no basis in fact. She acted legitimately and lawfully. No criminal charges followed her Mavi Marmara participation.
Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu coalition members expressed “upset over the High Court’s decision.”
They said in light of how justices ruled, it’s “clear that the existing law needs to change, and sharply declare that any expression of support for terror should be a disqualifier for running for election in the Israeli Knesset.
“Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu will immediately act during the next Knesset to fix the existing laws.”
They have in mind fascist police state harshness. Much already exists. Anti-democratic measures pass easily. Doing so reveals growing despotism.
Hadash MK Dov Khenin said it’s “troubling that the government condones harming democracy in order to gain a few more votes on the right.”
In 2009, CEC hardliners voted to ban Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al. In 2003, they disqualified MKs Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara.
In 2009, Avigdor Lieberman called Tibi “more dangerous to Israel than Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” He and other Israeli hardliners
called for stripping their citizenship and deporting them.
At the time, 34 other Israeli Arabs were targeted. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s killer, Yigal Amir, was exempted. Israeli extremists consider him heroic.
Over the past decade, Arab MKs were investigated. Some faced bogus incitement charges. At issue was participating in nonviolent protests.
Knesset hardliners compared them to Nazi collaborators. They urged denying them all rights, stripping their citizenship and banishing them. All Israeli Arabs face racist discrimination.
Israel affords rights only to Jews. Increasingly, fewer numbers qualify. Israel replicates America. Wealth, power, privilege and dominance alone matter.
Lawless belligerence is prioritized. Democratic values are spurned. Both countries aren’t fit to live in. Many fed up Jews leave.
Most remaining are ideologically right of center. Growing numbers represent lunatic fringe extremism. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have good reason to feel threatened. No one’s sure from day to day what’s next.
A final comment
On Dec. 30, a Haaretz editorial headlined, “The Zoabi test,” saying that justices needed “only weigh and measure the volume of that ‘critical mass,’ but its ruling (also) determine(s) whether there exists in Israel a sufficient critical mass of democracy.”
Fine/vague “line(s) between terror and expressing” opinions don’t exist. Opposing occupation and “identif(ying) with the Palestinians” are legitimate views.
If Weinstein thought Zoabi violated Israeli law, he would have said so. His decision should have influenced CEC members.
They don’t play by evidentiary rules. They call whatever they wish terrorism. At issue is “a political crusade against all the Arab political parties.”
Democratic societies aren’t “measured by the power of the majority or by its capitulation to political consensus.”
Democracy’s real test is allowing freely expressed views and actions. Disagreement with popular ones often matter most.
“A strong democracy isn’t spooked by the voices and opinions of those who don’t see the state and its policies as the pinnacle of creation.”
Nations prioritizing “defensive democracy … stifle political opponents.” Doing so “isn’t worthy of being called democra(tic).”
On Dec. 27, justices witnessed MK extremism firsthand. Verbal and physical threats exposed them. Some hardliners “would do away with the High Court of Justice altogether.”
On Sunday, Israeli Supreme Court justices ruled responsibly. They unanimously supported doing the right thing. Too bad they don’t always do so.
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