In general, Aeyal Gross is decent

February 17, 2015

In Blog News

Legitimizing the racist perceptions at the heart of Israeli politics

Marking people like Haneen Zoabi and Baruch Marzel as the ‘lunatic fringe’ hides the fact that the ‘mainstream’ is responsible for democracy’s real problems.

By Aeyal Gross | Feb. 17, 2015 | 1:55 AM
MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset, October 28, 2014.

Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) at the Knesset, October 28, 2014. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will consider the Central Election Committee’s decision to bar Haneen Zoabi and Baruch Marzel from contending for the Knesset. Before the last elections the committee had also disqualified Zoabi, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision, and one may assume it will do the same this time.

From the explanation the High Court of Justice published last week for its earlier decision to allow Zoabi’s suspension from Knesset activities for six months, it emerges that it accepted the argument that her remarks last June about the kidnappers of the three teenagers not being terrorists but “people who see no other way to change their reality” could be interpreted as expressing support for terrorism. The High Court chose, wrongly, to prefer the way the words were interpreted over their intent, as clarified by Zoabi.

But it’s doubtful if this determination will be enough to ban her candidacy on the grounds that she supports the armed struggle of a terror group against the state. Disqualifying political representatives is a drastic step that the Supreme Court has already said it would approve only in the most extreme cases. Zoabi stated that she did not support the kidnapping, and there are no legal grounds for disqualifying her.

With regard to Marzel, the court had in the past rejected a petition against a decision to allow him to run, and one assumes that his disqualification this time around will also be overturned. All’s well that ends well?

Not exactly, since there is a substantive problem with the grounds on which Arab representatives are being disqualified. In contrast to the banning of an anti-democratic party, disqualifying a party that opposes defining the state as Jewish is not legitimate, since we are not talking about a “democracy defending itself” but about blocking the option of having a political debate about the state’s character. Disqualification on grounds of supporting the armed struggle of a terror group or an enemy state against Israel sounds convincing on paper, but in practice it acts to restrict the ability of Arab MKs to express support for the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, while it does not allow the banning of someone who supports terror against Arabs.

That the Supreme Court overturns these disqualifications is important, but it doesn’t protect the Arab representatives from being repeatedly humiliated in the Central Elections Committee and before the court. Moreover, the constant threat of disqualification hovering over their heads creates a chilling effect that restricts their freedom of political action.

Although the elections committee this time also disqualified Marzel, from the time of the banning of the Kach party and its satellites in the late 1980s and early 1990s it has disqualified only Arab MKs. But if the grounds for disqualification are the clauses about denying the democratic nature of the state and incitement to racism, why doesn’t it ban Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu and other candidates who support continuing the occupation regime, which fundamentally undermines democracy and empties it of content?

The prevailing attitude is that those who want to maintain an apartheid regime in the territories, those who call to boycott Arab businesses, and those who are responsible for wars in which hundreds of children and civilians are killed are considered legitimate. The “Zoabis” and the Kahanists are marked as being on the fringe of legitimacy in a way which hides the fact that those considered the mainstream are responsible for the real problems of democracy, as well as the institutionalization of racism.

Thus, by marking people like Zoabi and sometimes like Marzel as the “lunatic fringe,” their disqualification becomes a means of legitimizing the anti-democratic and racist perceptions at the heart of Israeli politics, and marking them as normal and acceptable.