Israel’s Central Elections Committee decided on Wednesday not to disqualify Arab parties Balad and the United Arab List (Ra’am)-Ta’al from running for the 19th Knesset.
However, the committee voted to disqualify MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad). The decision was based chiefly on her involvement in the Gaza Freedom Flotillain May 2010.
The committee has yet to decide on petitions to ban the far right-wing party Otzma Leyisrael (Strength for Israel), headed by Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad, on the grounds it rejects the concept of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state; and the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism on the grounds they bar women from running.
As the meeting got under way, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) presented his petition to bar Zuabi from running: “To say that a member of Knesset was aboard the Mavi Marmara does not constitute the critical mass equaling support for a terrorist organization reflects a lack of understanding of what happened aboard that ship.”
MK Aryeh Eldad (Otzma Leyisrael) said: “I am a doctor and believe in preventive medicine. You don’t have to wait for people to be caught spying or committing treason before barring them from running.”
In a heated moment during the debate, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) sharply criticized the committee members and its head, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein. “This is a political committee partly comprised of decent people – I am here because of you,” Tibi told Rubinstein. “But it is made up of third-rate politicians and frustrated lawyers looking to make headlines at our expense.”
Rubinstein struggled to contain the members’ angry response to Tibi’s statements. “Shut up for a minute, for God’s sake, you are talking as if you are in the market,” Rubinstein said. “You’re offended? Fine, I’m offended too. Enough!”
Rubinstein protested Tibi’s refusal to apologize, adding that “every person here is first-rate. “He then temporarily adjourned the meeting to let the sides calm down.
Zuabi said in response to the vote that “the decision is a result of political vengeance and a pathetic attempt to harm the representation of the Arab public.” She added that she is convinced that “the struggle for full equality is the only way possible toward a democracy.”
According to Zuabi, “the members of the elections committee blatantly ignored the unequivocal advice of the Attorney General, which said 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,” she said. “Instead of holding a public debate, they wish to silence me and with me a whole demographic, and we will not cooperate with such silencing.”
Minutes before the meeting started, Balad members held a press conference in which chairman Jamal Zahalka announced: “If Zuabi is disqualified, I will not run in this election and will advise the party to boycott it.” Zuabi herself responded:
“Disqualifying me means disqualifying an entire generation of young Arabs.”
Balad representatives announced on Wednesday that they would not appear before the committee, and that their attorneys would present the party’s position in their stead.
Balad members are also saying they have no intention of letting right-wing parties make political hay at the expense of duly elected representatives of the Arab public.
Affidavits submitted to the committee asserted that the petitions were not based on any evidence whatsoever and are part of a racially tainted process of delegitimization the current coalition is leading against Arab citizens.
“The petitions are based on isolated and inaccurate quotations published on various websites and therefore do not justify a serious debate,” said the attorneys representing Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
Representatives of the UAL-Ta’al have decided to appear before the committee to present the party’s position. A party spokesperson said they would appear to fight the groundless accusations and ensure their position was documented before the High Court of Justice takes the matter up.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein earlier this week expressed his opposition to all petitions submitted on the subject on grounds of there being insufficient basis for proving the accusations raised.
Prior to the previous elections in 2009, the committee also voted to ban Balad and the United Arab List (Ra’am)-Ta’al. In the election for the 16th Knesset in 2003, the committee disqualified MKs Tibi and Azmi Bishara.
But the High Court of Justice has time and again overturned such decisions. Of the ten decisions made by the Central Elections Committee to disqualify parties or individuals from the election process, the High Court of Justice upheld only three: The Socialist Party was banned in 1964 and Kach and Kahana Chai were banned in 1988 and 1992.
Shas and United Torah Judaism on Tuesday aroused the ire of the political establishment after they submitted their responses to the petitions seeking to bar their running. “The parties operate on the basis of Jewish religious law, which mandates a clear separation between men and women on the grounds of modesty. Men have one role and women another. This division of labor does not represent marginalization of women, discrimination against women, or a belief that women are inferior to men,” read the statement submitted by the parties’ legal counsel. It went on to say: “A great number of women voters will refuse to vote for our parties should our slates include women.”
Yael German, the mayor of Herzliya and number three on the Yesh Atid slate, condemned the two parties. “The exclusion of women from politics by the ultra-Orthodox parties reflects a thoroughly backward, unenlightened position and is a grave risk to Israeli society,” said German, and added: “The state has the responsibility to prevent the phenomenon of excluding women from rearing its ugly head. This is precisely the reason Yesh Atid will make sure that the exclusion of women becomes a criminal offense.”
Labor and Meretz announced they would not support any petition to disqualify a party. Before the Central Elections Committee convened its meeting, MK Isaac Herzog (Labor faction whip) said:
“We view freedom of expression and freedom of opinion as the very lifeblood of Israel’s democracy and we firmly believe in this principle. Any disqualification, whether from the left or the right, is a slippery slope, especially at a time when we must stand firm to ensure the existence of democracy, despite our disgust with many of the statements and positions expressed by various parties and Knesset members whose banning is under discussion. They may be very far from our own philosophy but barring them would be a dangerous mistake.”
By Nadia Abu El-Haj, Lila Abu-Lughod, Gil Anidjar, Rashid Khalidi, Brinkley Messick, James Schamus
Jadaliyya – 19 Dec 2012
The following statement was issued on 19 December 2012 by a group of Columbia University professors in response to recent comments by the newly appointed chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, wherein he equated the criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
A recent interview conducted by UC Berkeley’s Public Relations office and timed with the appointment of the new university Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, begins, “Floating around the Internet is a claim that at some point in your past… you signed a petition for Columbia to divest in all things Israel.” The interviewer asks the Chancellor-designate to clarify his role. But let us be clear: this is not a question. It is a demand. We live in political climate in which robust and critical speech about the policies of the Israeli state is becoming ever more difficult. Its proponents are subjected to myriad forms of harassment in an effort to shut down such speech. If one wants to be a powerful public figure, the interviewer is effectively saying to Dirks, distance yourself from that petition.
Unfortunately, Dirks responds by doing precisely what is demanded of him. He does not clarify that the Columbia University petition did not call for divestment from “all things Israel,” but instead from companies that manufacture or sell arms or other military hardware utilized by Israel, in violation of US law, against the civilian populations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He does not say that he did sign the petition, but, as he might have argued, that once he became an administrator he recognized he had to play a different role, one that protects all political speech on campus, regardless of his own personal convictions, and thus that he chose to withdraw his signature. Instead, he declares that somehow his name appeared on the petition and that he asked for it to be removed.
That is not all: Dirks goes much further. He offers a description of Columbia in 2002 as a time in which broader “controversies” over the question of Israel and Palestine developed. He narrates those controversies in the voice of the off-campus Jewish neo-conservative groups (Campus Watch, the David Project, to name the main provocateurs) who spearheaded a sustained attack against his own colleagues, who were faculty members in the Middle East field. The David Project produced a film, Columbia Unbecoming, that instigated Columbia’s supposedly “internal” investigation. Parroting their perspective in his interview, Dirks notes that it was a climate in which “it seemed very difficult for some [Jewish] students to find safe spaces in which to talk about Israel where they didn’t feel that the basic context in which they found themselves wasn’t hugely not just anti-Israel, but by implication, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.” His is a brilliant rhetorical move, an account of how some Jewish students supposedly “felt.” In providing no other perspective on the “controversy,” however, Dirks allows the contention that criticism of Israel’s policies is, “by implication, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic” to stand as a simple matter of fact.
In purveying this false account, Dirks rewrites the history of the conflict at Columbia. The reality, in contrast, was one in which most members of the faculty and many students argued that baseless accusations of anti-Semitism were being wielded in an effort to curtail academic freedom and free speech. Moreover, Dirks rewrites the “conclusion” to that so-called controversy. No action was taken against any professors precisely because 1) the Committee that he himself appointed, and that he speaks of in the interview, found no evidence that any members of the faculty had ever done or said anything that could be reasonably construed as anti-Semitic, and 2) the Columbia faculty stood overwhelmingly behind the principles of academic freedom that were threatened by these malicious accusations.
Dirks’ response is disturbing not just for how it distorts the past. It is perhaps even more alarming for what it portends for the future. The new Chancellor of UC Berkeley is walking into a situation in which the California State Assembly has passed a non binding resolution that equates defense of Palestinian rights and criticism of the policies of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism (Resolution HR 35). He is walking into an institutional context in which his boss, the president of the University of California system, was apparently involved in commenting on and drafting that very same bill [see Center for Constitutional Rights letter to UC President Yudof]. He is walking into a political reality in which several Title VI cases are pending against schools in the UC system, accusing them of fostering a “hostile” learning environment for Jewish students. He is taking charge of a campus in which Arab, Muslim and other students advocating for Palestinian rights are being targeted by specific Zionist activist groups for creating a “campus climate” that is “anti-Semitic and hostile to Jewish students” (see CCR letter to UC President Yudof).
This was a moment for the incoming Chancellor of UC Berkeley to stand on principle. Criticizing the policies of the state of Israel that violate Palestinian human and political rights, or advocating in favor of a boycott and divestment campaign, he might have said, is political speech, not hate speech. Dirks could have risen to the occasion and said that even if he is personally opposed to the divestment campaign it is nevertheless a matter that we must be able to discuss. For that matter, he could have said that even if he, as the incoming Chancellor of Berkeley, disagrees with critics of Israel’s policies, their speech is nevertheless legitimate, even necessary speech. Dirks should have said that what is at stake are fundamental democratic principles—not just academic freedom but free speech itself.
Nadia Abu El-Haj