Here we go again; as if this hasn't happened five times before. Knesset members from the extreme right are demanding that the Balad party and Hanin Zoabi be disqualified from the upcoming elections. This has become routine over the past few years: Lawmakers who cannot tolerate the fact that strong and opinionated representatives of the Arab minority are sitting in the Knesset are working to ban Balad from the elections. Disqualifying the minority is part of their anti-democratic agenda and is also a great way to grab headlines.
It works as follows: The right recruits its automatic majority in the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Balad. Then the Supreme Court overturns the vote and explains to the Knesset that the disqualification is illegal – and Balad is allowed to run in the elections. This is how things are going to play out this time around as well, unless the Elections Committee has learned its lesson and will avoid another fiasco.
There is no doubt that Balad and Zoabi – like most MKs who represent the Arab minority – infuriate the right. If there is something that the Kahanist right of Ben-Ari, Danon and their ilk cannot tolerate it is other opinions, particularly if these opinions relate to the rights of the Palestinians.
Instead of doing some soul-searching and realizing that they are using their power to trample on the minority, instead of taking responsibility for the nationalism that is sweeping the Knesset and has overtaken Likud's roster as well – instead of all this, the rightist MKs are pointing a finger at Balad. As far as they are concerned, Balad is to blame for all of Israel's troubles; Balad – not the occupation; Balad – not the escalating discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens; Balad – not the racist legislation introduced by the right in the 18th Knesset.
Now the group headed by Ben-Ari and Danon found the perfect victim: The opinionated, articulate and combative MK Hanin Zoabi. They have accused her of attacking soldiers and declaring war on Israel. While Zoabi is at the forefront of Balad's resistance to Israel's policy of oppression, no one has ever accused her of assault or violence. Not once.
All Zoabi wanted to do during the flotilla affair was to enter Gaza to express her solidarity with the besieged residents. This was a completely legitimate and worthy act which fell well within the boundaries of freedom of expression. Therefore, it did not surprise anyone when the attorney general closed the case against Zoabi and blocked the McCarthyite attempts to put her on trial.
But the attorney general's decision and the High Court if Justice's rulings have not silenced the extreme rightists. From their perspective, the real problem is not just Balad or Zoabi, but all those who do not cooperate with their racist agenda – including the High Court and the attorney general. This is why it is clear that disqualifying Zoabi would give the Kahanists a green light to do away with the nuisance called democracy.
According to the polls, the next Knesset will look just like the outgoing one did – if not worse. Anti-Democratic proposals will continue to be submitted unabated. Before this happens, we must recognize that a true democracy includes an opinionated Palestinian minority with equal rights. He who supports the muzzling of Zoabi and Balad today may find out tomorrow that he is also being silenced.
Sami el-Ali is a freelance journalist and Balad activist.