Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) may compete in the Jan. 22 elections after all, the High Court of Justice ruled unanimously on Sunday, overturning a Central Elections Committee to disqualify her candidacy. The expanded nine-judge panel promised to elaborate on the decision at a later date.
Earlier this month, the Central Elections Committee decided to disqualify Zoabi from running in the coming election over her participation in the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla which sought to breach Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israeli special forces raided the Mavi Marmara, the ship that Zoabi was on, 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, the clashes that ensued left nine Turkish activists dead. Footage from the incident shows Zoabi on the vessel as the Israeli commandos board it.
The court's decision was largely expected and was consistent with past rulings in which requests to disqualify candidates were denied on the grounds of free speech.
The vote to disqualify Zoabi on Dec. 19 was split along ideological lines. Representatives of the right-wing and religious parties voted in favor of the measure, while Labor, Meretz, Hatnuah and other parties on the Left and Center-Left voted against the motion. The head of the committee, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, abstained. The motion was automatically forwarded to the court under a clause in the Basic Law: Knesset stipulating that any Central Elections Committee decision to deny a candidate a Knesset bid must be reviewed by the High Court before it takes effect.
Prior to the committee’s vote, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein issued a legal opinion in which he said there were no grounds to disqualify Zoabi. He said Zoabi's apparent sympathy for terrorist groups and the Palestinian cause in general were not sufficient to render her ineligible to run for office, despite her role in the 2010 flotilla. According to Weinstein, Zoabi did not violate the Basic Law: Knesset, which stipulates that a candidate can be denied a Knesset run if he or she actively seeks harm to the state or wants to undo Israel's Jewish and democratic character.
Moments after the High Court issued its ruling, Zoabi told Army Radio that the outcome did not come as a surprise. "I expected such a decision; it looks like there was just no legal basis to justify my disqualification," she said. "I was subject to ridiculous political persecution [and] the High Court made the right and proper decision."
Zoabi defended her actions in the flotilla, saying, "I am not sorry for my behavior on the Marmara." Speaking with the press shortly after her candidacy was reinstated, she accused the Central Elections Committee of abusing its authority by "disqualifying candidates because of their ideology."
MK Ofir Akunis (Likud), who sponsored the measure to disqualify Zoabi, expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s decision. "The automatic judicial review by the High Court of those disqualified [by the committee] should be revisited," Akunis said in a statement.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud) echoed Akunis, hinting that the judges were out of touch. "The Supreme Court justices will only realize that Zoabi needs to be removed from the Knesset after she blows herself up inside the building," Levin warned.
The joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu campaign also issued a statement attacking the decision: "The High Court's decision is unfortunate. The court's interpretation of the law makes it incumbent upon us to amend the law so that it stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that any show of support for terrorism would render a candidate ineligible to run for the Knesset. Likud-Beytenu will immediately start working on an amendment once the new Knesset convenes."