The Guardian, Tuesday 13 January 2009
Israel’s parliament yesterday banned Arab political parties from running in general elections next month, a sign of growing confrontation with the country’s Arab minority.
If the ban is upheld by the supreme court, then the two Arab parties would be the first to be banned since Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party in the 1980s, which advocated expelling Arabs from Israel.
The decision was proposed by two hardline, rightwing parties and approved by the Israeli parliament’s 37-member Central Election Committee, composed of representatives of all leading parties. It comes after days of protest by Arab Israelis – who make up 20% of the Israeli population – against the devastating military offensive in Gaza but is the culmination of years of discrimination within Israel against its Arab citizens.
The committee accused the Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist. There have long been complaints about Arab Israeli MPs travelling to Lebanon and Syria – technically enemy countries.
The two parties, Balad and United Arab List-Ta’al, have seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament. Other Arab Israelis are able to stand for election in the main Jewish parties or on the mixed list of the Communist party.
Ahmed Tibi, of UAL-Ta’al, had spoken out publicly against Israel’s invasion of Gaza, describing it as “genocide”. “You’re murdering children,” he added. Tibi said of yesterday’s decision: “It was 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 Arabs.”
Avigdor Lieberman, who leads one of the rightwing parties that proposed the ban, described Balad as a “terrorist organisation” and said he now wanted to ban the party completely. In 2007, the party leader Azmi Bishara, was forced to leave the country after a mounting campaign against him and accusations that he had given information to Hezbollah during Israel’s war in Lebanon in 2006. The allegations were never proven and no charge was ever made. It came after Israel’s domestic intelligence agency had described a radicalisation of Arab Israelis as a “strategic threat” to Israel’s existence.