only three Arab parties represented in the Israeli parliament
vowed yesterday to fight a
decision by the Central Elections Committee
to bar them from running in next month's general election.
In an unprecedented move signaling a further breakdown in
Jewish-Arab relations inside Israel, all the main Jewish parties voted
on Monday for the blanket disqualification. Several committee members
equated the Arab parties' vocal support for the Gazan people with
support for terrorism.
The decision follows the arrest of at least 600 Arab demonstrators
since the outbreak of the Gaza offensive and the interrogation by the
secret police of dozens of Arab community leaders. The three
parties – the National Democratic Assembly, the United Arab List
and the Renewal
Movement – have seven legislators out of a total of 120 in the Israeli
parliament, the Knesset.
The elections committee barred all three from putting up candidates
for the Feb 10 election on the grounds that they had violated a 2002
law by refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and by supporting
a terrorist organization.
Ahmed Tibi, the leader of Renewal, denounced the decision as "a
political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing
to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without
A petition against the disqualification will be heard by a panel of
Supreme Court justices this week.
Hassan Jabareen, the director of the Adalah legal rights group,
which represents the Arab parties, noted that the disqualification
motion had been introduced by far right-wing parties.
Such parties include Yisrael Beiteinu, which campaigns for the
country's 1.2 million-strong Arab minority to be stripped of
"It is absurd that the committee is backing a motion from racist
parties in the Knesset to exclude the Arab parties whose platform is
that Israel must be made into a proper democracy treating all its
The elections committee is composed of representatives from all the
major parties. Although it has voted for disqualification of Arab
candidates before, it is the first time both that the left-wing Labor
Party has backed such a motion and that all the Arab parties have been
included in the ban.
Mr Jabareen accused the right-wing parties of exploiting the war
atmosphere. Labor's secretary general, Eitan Cabel, called his party's
conduct in voting for the disqualification "patriotic."
All the Arab parties have harshly criticized the attack on Gaza.
This week Mr Tibi described Israeli actions as "genocide", while
Ibrahim Sarsour, of the United Arab List, said Israel was seeking to
"eliminate the Palestinian cause."
In the past, Arab Knesset members have also upset their Jewish
colleagues by traveling to neighboring Arab states, defying a change
in the law to prevent such visits.
Following the vote on the ban, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael
Beiteinu, suggested his party had additional goals: "The next battle is
making [the National Democratic Assembly] illegal because it is a
terrorist organization whose objective is harming the state of Israel."
Mr Lieberman and other legislators have been hounding the NDA for
years, chiefly because it is led by Azmi Bishara, an outspoken
proponent of equal rights for Arab citizens. Israeli secret police
forced Mr Bishara into exile two years ago, accusing him of treason
after the 2006 Lebanon war.
During the 2003 election, when the committee barred the NDA and Mr
Tibi from running, the decision was overturned by a majority of the
Supreme Court. But few of the justices from that hearing are still on
"There are reasons to be fearful," Mr Jabareen said. "The Supreme
Court is also susceptible to the current war atmosphere and its
authority has been greatly eroded over the past year. It has been
forced on to the defensive over claims from the Right that its
decisions support the Left."
If the ban is upheld, some Arab representation in the Knesset is
likely to continue. The joint Arab and Jewish Communist Party is
allowed to stand, and the three major Jewish parties include one or two
Arab candidates on their lists, though not always in electable
Meanwhile, Israeli police admitted they arrested about 600 people
involved in protests against the Gaza offensive, some of them for
stone-throwing. Adalah lawyers said more than 200 people, most of them
Arab, were still in jail.
"We're talking about mass arrests," said Abeer Baker, adding that
Israel was exploiting a 30-day window before an indictment had to be
filed to hold suspects without producing evidence.
In addition, the Shin Bet, Israel's secretive domestic security
service, has called in dozens of Arab leaders for interrogation. Ameer
Makhoul, head of the Ittijah organization, which promotes Arab causes
in Israel, was detained last week. He said a security official who
interrogated him threatened to jail him over demonstrations he helped
to organize in support of Gaza.
"The officer called me a rebel threatening the security of the state
during time of war and said he would be happy to transfer me to Gaza,"
Mr Makhoul said.
Haaretz, a leftist Israeli daily newspaper, has called the
interrogations "intimidation tactics to prevent legitimate protest."
A version of this article originally appeared in The
National, published in Abu Dhabi.