The decision to disqualify Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) reached the High Court of Justice on Thursday, where an extended panel of nine judges was slated to decide the fate of her re-election bid. The court has said it will issue a ruling by Sunday.
Last week, the Central Elections Committee said Zoabi could no longer run in the upcoming Jan. 22 elections because of her participation in the 2010 flotilla which sought to breach the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israeli special forces raided the Mavi Marmara ship after its captain disobeyed Israel Navy orders to dock at the Ashdod port for inspection. When some of the activists on board attacked the soldiers, they resorted to force, killing nine Turkish nationals.
Footage from the incident shows Zoabi on the vessel as the Israeli commandos board it.
Chief Justice Asher Dan Grunis chaired the court hearing. MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), who sponsored the motion to disqualify Zoabi, defended the committee's decision.
As she arrived in court, Zoabi repeated previous comments that the decision to disqualify her reeked of foul play and was designed to disenfranchise Arabs in general.
"I expect the court to overturn the ruling. I did not break any law; there is no basis for my disqualification," she said."The racists should be in court today. Such a decision to disqualify me disqualifies all Arab citizens."
Protesters from both sides demonstrated outside the courtroom. MK Jamal Zahalka, from the mostly Arab National Democratic Assembly, and MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) could be seen shouting at each other and had to be separated by security after they apparently tried to tackle one another.
"I will not turn the other cheek," Ben-Ari said after the altercation. "National Democratic Assembly people tried to attack me and I reacted. It is our right to say that Hanin Zoabi is a terrorist. All the niceties and proper manners must not apply when it comes to the enemies of Israel."
In a Dec. 17 legal opinion, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said Zoabi's apparent sympathy with terrorist groups and the Palestinian cause in general were not sufficient to render her ineligible to run for office. According to Weinstein, Zoabi did not violate the Basic Law: Knesset, which stipulates that a candidate can be denied a Knesset bid if he or she actively seeks harm to the state or wants to undo Israel's Jewish and democratic character.
"Although the evidence gathered in MK Zoabi's case is substantial, and it is particularly troubling in that her actions appear to skirt the outer limits of the law, it seems that the requests [to disqualify Zoabi] do not point to a critical mass of evidence — a necessary threshold if she was to be disqualified as a Knesset candidate, as precedent dictates," Weinstein wrote. The committee, which comprises representatives from the various Knesset factions, did not follow Weinstein's advice and voted to disqualify Zoabi.
On Wednesday, Akunis expressed hope that "the Supreme Court will draw a red line that will delineate the boundaries in the Israeli democracy."
"Zoabi brazenly broke the law when she participated in the Marmara terrorist attack. Those who violate the Basic Law: Knesset have no place in the Knesset," he said.
Nidal Othman, an attorney who heads the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, said on Wednesday that the "Supreme Court will not only have to weigh Zoabi's candidacy but also the state's desire to act in good faith toward ending the discrimination against the Arab population and the persecution of its leaders."
After last week's decision to disqualify her, Zoabi said the committee's ruling bore a "black flag of illegitimacy and the tyrannical rule of the majority."