Monday, January 12, 2009

Oy Vey: What is Israel doing?

Israel's Election committee disqualified Arab parties Balad and United Arab List (UAL) after a petition was filed by Israeli ultra-nationalist parties Ichud Leumi (National Union) and Israel Beitenu and Itay Furman, formerly of Shinui.
The petitions claimed that Balad's political platform aimed to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state and that the party was supporting armed struggle against Israel. Israel Beiteinu filed a petition against UAL for the same reasons.
The last time an Israeli party was banned was Rabbi Kahane's Kach party, which called for the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel.
Zahalka said that the procedure in the Elections Committee was an attempt to demonize Balad.

"Israeli democracy, not Balad, is being put to the test today," he said. "We are not Zionists and we will never be, under any circumstances," Zahalka said.

"Balad is a democratic and progressive party and we believe in the basic principle of equality for all people. We would never accept, politically or emotionally, claims that someone else is superior to us just because we're Arabs," Zahalka said. "All we demand is democracy! What are you afraid of when we ask for equality? We are the sons of this country, we were born here and we are willing to treat you with equality, so why don't you? We offer to live together. [Israel Beitenu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman offers to die together."

"We say, any vote given to Kadima is a bullet in the chest of a Palestinian child in Gaza," Tibi told the committee prior to the vote. "Israel's problem is not Balad, not UAL, but the Kadima Party and [Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud] Barak. These people started a war as an election campaign. The State of Israel is democratic for Jews and Jewish for its Arab citizens. We never said that we don't recognize the State of Israel. We are part of it, but we will never accept Zionism, which is an ideology that aspires to banish us from our homes."

Before Tibi's harsh words, UAL had not been expected to be disqualified from running. Despite the fact that there had been no plan to bar the party, Tibi's comments managed to upset Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel.

Cabel voted to bar Balad, saying that although he knew the High Court of Justice would reverse the committee's decision, Zahalka had offended him and the Israeli public.

In 2003, the committee approved a similar request to disqualify Balad from Knesset elections, a decision that the High Court of Justice later reversed.

Rivlin quoted the High Court's 2003 ruling, saying the decision had mandated that there be substantial evidence that a given party supported an enemy's armed fight against Israel in order to disqualify that party from running for the Knesset, not just random and sporadic hostile sentiments expressed by its members.

Attorney Dana Briskman, speaking on behalf of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, told the committee prior to the vote that the attorney-general had not found sufficient evidence to disqualify Balad or UAL.

Lieberman, whose party led the move to have these Arab parties disqualified from the elections, responded to the committee's decision by saying, "The next step is to declare Balad illegal because it's a terror organization that seeks to hurt Israel."

Attorney Yoav Manni, who represented Israel Beitenu in the discussion, said that former Balad head Azmi Bishara, who fled the country under suspicion of spying for Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War, was still consulted regularly by current party members.

Tibi said he would appeal the committee's decision to the High Court of Justice which is expected to reverse the decision by Friday. Zahalka predicted that this decision would lead to a deeper crisis between the country's Jewish and Arab citizens.

Later Monday, the Elections Committee rejected petitions that sought to disqualify haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism from the Knesset elections on the grounds that they ran separate school systems that operated in an undemocratic way and would undermine democracy in the country.

Everybody, even those that filed the petitions expects the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn this. I think this is a sad note in Israeli politics and I hope Supreme Court will deal with this as quickly as possible. If the Attorney General had evidence to prosecute these Arab parties, he would have done so. I hope this political hogwash ends. I think that the ultra-nationalist MKs (Members of Knesset) are just using this petition to show to the Arab MKs how disgusted they are with their rhetoric and opposition to the Gaza operation.

I think that the ultra-nationalists scare me more than the Arab parties because of two reasons. One, their numbers. Two, their platform is against the core basics of my liberal Jewish-American ideals. A representative of one of these ultra-nationalist parties spoke to my class in Jerusalem a few years ago. Their idea of "tough love" should be marginalized and has no place in a free society.

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