Twenty-one per cent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs.
Most of them resent living in a Jewish state. At the same time, most of them are certain that they have more freedom and are better off – economically, physically, educationally – than in any Arab state, including the proposed “Palestinian” one. Some are happy to live together with Jews, but most live in Arab-only towns and prefer that. Most have no problem working side by side with Jews.
As citizens of Israel they have the right to vote and hold office. Most of them vote, and most of those vote for one of the Arab parties, although many choose the more liberal Jewish parties. Some even vote for the Likud.
Their representatives in the Knesset are more militant about Jewish-Arab issues than the general population. Some favor cooperation with the Jewish state, but some openly favor its liquidation. It is not against the law in Israel to hate the Jewish state, as long as you don’t support terrorism or incite it.
But still, imagine what it would be like for your country to have a party in its legislature whose platform directly calls for your state to be dissolved and replaced by one governed by its enemies. Israel has at least one, Balad.
Jamal Zahalka, the chairman of the Balad Party, one of the Arab parties making up the Joint List which today holds thirteen seats in Israel’s Knesset, recently said that his party is “not part of the Israeli left, but is an inseparable part of the Palestinian national movement.”
Zahalka is retiring from the Knesset, but he remains chairman of the party. His top position on Balad’s list for election was taken by Mtanes Shihadeh, who agreed with Zahalka’s formulation.
Among the Joint List’s thirteen are three members of Balad. At present they are Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi (who is also retiring, and who is notorious for being on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that tried to break the Gaza blockade and whose passengers engaged in a deadly confrontation with Israeli naval commandos), and Basel Ghattas, who is serving a two-year prison sentence for smuggling cell phones and SIM cards to security prisoners in Israeli jails.
Balad’s founder, Azmi Bishara, is currently in Doha, Qatar, where he fled to avoid prosecution for aiding Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Balad’s official position is that they favor the division of Israel into two states: one would be an Palestinian Arab state, and the other a binational “democratic state of all its citizens,” including, of course, a right of return for the millions of Arabs holding refugee status. There would be no specifically Jewish state.
The “Palestinian National Movement” of course is not a concretely existing institution. However, it can be assumed to be an amalgam of the PLO, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and so on – all of which explicitly advocate the violent replacement of Israel by an Arab state.
By now you are probably asking, how can a party that opposes the existence of a Jewish state and – by associating itself with the Palestinian National Movement – supports violent “resistance” against Israel, be allowed to run candidates for Israel’s parliament?
The answer is that according to the law, it can’t. Israel’s Basic Law: The Knesset, says
A candidates’ list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:
- negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
- incitement to racism;
- support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.
An earlier version of this law, incidentally, was used to disqualify Meir Kahane from the Knesset in 1988 on the grounds of racism. He is the only candidate that has ever been banned under this law whose ban was not overturned by the Supreme Court.
Balad explicitly and clearly falls into the first category, and probably the third. Indeed, in 2003 and 2009, Israel’s Central Elections Committee disqualified Balad and another party on precisely these grounds. But both times, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the ban. The Court ruled (2009 decision is here, in Hebrew) that the committee hadn’t “met the evidentiary burden” of proving that the parties had violated the law, although in the case of Balad in 2009, one of nine justices dissented, saying that Balad’s position did negate the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel’s Supreme Court is a problem (read this excellent review by Evelyn Gordon of a book on the subject by Daniel Friedmann). They explain that the Court has neutered Israel’s elected Knesset and government in a process that has been going on for several decades, by arrogating more and more power to itself, bit by bit. Today the Supreme Court has no effective checks and balances to keep it from intervening anywhere in Israel’s political, social or economic spheres. Decisions are not made on constitutional principles (there is no constitution and the Court is very creative about interpreting basic laws), but simply by what appeals to the justices’ liberal sensibilities.
Although the left-leaning media and legal elites that currently use the Court to exert their influence over the state will scream “democracy in danger!” when anyone suggests limiting the Court’s power, the real threat to democracy is the judicial dictatorship that has wrapped its tentacles around the country.
Gordon notes that the text in the Basic Law: The Knesset regarding disqualification of a party was rewritten several times in an attempt to find a version that could be applied to anti-state parties and survive a Supreme Court challenge; but apparently, there can never be enough evidence for these justices. At least, not if the complaint is against an Arab party.
She also presents Friedmann’s persuasive argument that by not disqualifying Balad, the Court accomplished the opposite of its objective of benefiting Israeli Arabs, due to the inevitable backlash to the incitement and provocation carried out by Arab extremists in the Knesset – incitement that has led to actual violence on more than one occasion.
There is also the question of self-respect. The Jewish state of Israel does not withhold full political rights from Arabs. Should we also grant them a right to call for the destruction of said state in the halls of our parliament?
In retrospect, the decision to effectively allow unlimited anti-state speech by Arab members of Israel’s parliament has been a poor one. The Supreme Court, like all unelected rulers, whether kings, dictators, or juntas, believes itself to have better judgment than those unwashed multitudes that constitute the electorate, and their slightly better-groomed representatives. But there is a reason that Churchill called democracy the worst form of government, except for all those others. The elites claim to be for democracy, but as Gordon notes, they have a tendency to confuse the democratic system of government with the “all-encompassing set of social and moral values known today as liberalism.”
Events may give the Supreme Court, now perhaps improved by four years of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister, another chance to prove itself a champion of justice rather than of the Meretz party line. Zahalka’s remarks may provoke the Central Elections Committee to invoke the law and complain yet again about Balad. And maybe this time the disqualification will stick.