This past Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned a decision by Israel’s Central Election Committee to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi of the Balad Party from running for a seat in the January 22 parliamentary elections. The court rejected the committee’s ruling that she should be banned based on her involvement in the Gaza flotilla of May 2010.
And therein lies an important tale.
Since it appears the decision is prompting calls for amending Israel’s Basic Law on elections, it is perhaps more important to focus on the fact that the court acted as it did than on the question of whether it was the committee or the court that correctly interpreted the law.
Briefly, earlier this month the elections committee had voted 19-9, with one abstention, to disqualify Ms. Zoabi based on its reading of the Basic Law, which in relevant part provides for the disqualification of a candidate “if the goals or actions of the person expressly or by implication, include one of the following: 1. Negation of the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; 2. Incitement to racism; 3. Support for armed struggle by a hostile state or a terrorist organization against the state of Israel.
Certainly a strong argument could be made that Ms. Zoabi’s frequent condemnation of Israeli government policy pertaining to the Jewish essence of Israel, and her participation in the Gaza flotilla, comes within the provisions of numbers 1 and 3.
But the court nonetheless ruled as it did. Importantly, the ruling stands out in the context of all the recent talk about the Palestinian Authority’s intention to haul Israel before the International Criminal Court now that the PA has achieved recognition by the General Assembly as a non-member observer state. Yet jurisdiction of the ICC and other international tribunals is based on the failure of a state’s own court system to take up certain issues or its penchant for consistently ruling in favor of the state.
However, the ruling of Israel’s High Court in the Zoabi case demonstrates quite clearly that Israel’s court system is neither afraid to take on controversial issues nor reluctant to side with Arab interests against Jewish ones. Indeed, given the spate of rulings regarding ownership of properties in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, it can hardly be argued that Israel’s courts automatically reject Arab claims and favor Jewish ones.
We don’t care at all for this phenomenon, but it would be refreshing to sometimes hear things like this acknowledged by chronic critics of Israel. Perhaps they should think just a little about how a Jew would fare in any Arab court.