Logo of Bala"d (acronym for "National Democratic Assembly")
In a shocking and shameful decision, the Central Elections Committee (see English) today (English) disqualified Bala"d and Ra"am-Ta"l, two Israeli Arab parties, from running in the upcoming 18th Knesset election. The disqualification hinged on the votes of the representatives from Kadima and the Labor Party on the committee. Kadima apparently endorsed the disqualification of both the parties, while the Labor Party voted only to disqualify Balad. To no one's surprise, the right-wing parties were jubilant about the outcome. Avigdor Liberman, most notably, called it the first step in a bid to outlaw the parties entirely. While the Arab parties themselves boycotted the vote, only Meretz, it appears, voted against the disqualification moves.
From the coverage, it is unclear on what grounds the parties were disqualified. Past attempts to disqualify the parties were struck down by the Supreme Court. In conversation with Carmia, Meretz's Zehava Gal-On expressed confidence that this would be the likely outcome again, once the disqualification is challenged in the court. Nevertheless, Gal-On expressed consternation about Labor's support for the measure. She said it was "unimaginable that something like this could happen in the State of Israel."
Gal-On is right. I am no fan of these parties and the politics of their leaders. In fact, I abhor them as much as I do their counterparts on the far right. But the rationale given by Eitan Cabel for his support of the disqualification was so flimsy as to seriously cast doubt on the man's judgment. Apparently Cabel objected to the "defiance" of Jamal Zahalka at the committee hearings. Cabel referred to his "patriotic feeling" as having swayed his vote. Is this man serious? Is he really going to jeopardize the most basic democratic institutions of the state because of some vague feeling?
Let's be clear. The behavior of Zahalka, Ahmed Tibi, and, before his abscondance, of Azmi Bishara in the Knesset is often repulsive. Many reasonable people can find their views odious. But are they inciting to ethnic hatred, as other disqualified parties were found to have done? Can it be proven that they are actively working to eliminate the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people? These are the two conditions for which parties may be disqualified.
What this looks like is an exercise in stifling dissent. It is an attempt to outlaw "unpopular" opinions. The Arab parties, just like the right-wing, centrist, and left-wing Zionist parties deserve to be criticized, lampooned, vigorously opposed using democratic means. But as long as they are not breaking the law, they cannot be outlawed simply because they don't meet some standard of "patriotism" set by people such as Avigdor Liberman. As long as their struggle is conducted within the means of parliamentary democracy, it must be protected with the utmost resolution. Unless Zahalke et al. are calling for physical attacks against other Israeli citizens and institutions or hoping to accomplish this using the aid of an enemy state or terrorist organization, they have the right to excoriate Israel in whatever terms they see fit. They can even resort to vile, disgusting mischaracterizations of Israeli policy and society to do this. Indeed, they may even lie.
To me, much of this is depressingly familiar from the days of the Bishara affair. I will not recycle here the arguments I made in its wake. Suffice to say that when so many parliamentarians show a blatant disregard for the basic tenets of liberal democracy, we are in serious trouble. If parties are going to be banned, the evidence must be incontrovertible that they indeed represent forces for which no room exists on the democratic spectrum. Let us hope that the Supreme Court reflects carefully on this matter. Unless there is evidence which has not yet been revealed to the public, a disqualification of Ra"am-Ta"al and Bala"d is unconscionable.
ADDENDUM: The Parties Law of 1992 has the following limitations on a party's potential registration:
- Any rejection (in the party's goals or activities) of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
- Any incitement to racism.
- Any support of the armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization against the State of Israel
- Any hint of a cover for illegal activity.