Arab Israeli politicians warned of rising anti-Arab sentiment in Jewish public opinion, vowing Wednesday to appeal a majority decision by the Knesset Monday to disqualify Arab political parties in Israel's from running in the Jewish state's upcoming elections.
Balad, one of the Arab-Israeli political parties banned, announced Wednesday it will appeal the Knesset decision which saw a majority of 21 members of the Israeli Elections Committee voting on Monday in favor of disqualifying Balad and United Arab List-Taal (UAL-T), another Arab political party.
The ban will prevent more than half of the current Arab members of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, from running for reelection in February.
Balad MK Said Nafaa was quoted by local newspapers as saying that the decision to disqualify his party is based on political maneuverings to eliminate Arab representation from an increasingly right wing Knesset.
"We represent hundreds of thousands of Arab Israeli voters. Participating in the upcoming elections and gaining representation in the Knesset is therefore our duty to making Israel a democratic country," he said.
Liberman: first battle is over
In the Knesset discussion, Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka accused right wing Avigdor Lieberman, the driving force behind the ban, of overpowering moderate parties in the Knesset.
"Lieberman succeeded in leading Israel's centric parties by the nose, and if they continue following him, he'll become the next prime minister," he was quoted by Ynews as saying.
"Avigdor Lieberman is the one who demanded that Balad be disqualified, and it turns out that in Israeli politics he can set the boundaries of right and wrong of political discourse," he added.
The head of an ultra-nationalist opposition party, Liberman apparently declared Balad a terrorist organization, saying that “whoever values life” would understand the need to ban the party.
Following the committee's decision on Monday, Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying, "Now that it has been decided that the Balad terrorist organization will not be able to run, the first battle is over," adding, "the next battle is making Balad illegal because it is a terrorist organization whose objective is harming the State of Israel."
No legal basis for ban
The CEC claimed that both Arab political parties had political platforms that aimed to undermine Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state and that they were supporting armed struggle against Israel.
However, UAL-Ta'al chairman Ahmed Tibi said no legal basis exists for passing the ban.
"There is no legal basis for Monday's decision to disqualify UAL-Ta'al and Balad," he stated after Knesset discussion.
The two Arab political parties will take their case to the Israeli High Court of Justice to appeal the Knesset's decision.
"I hope that the High Court of Justice will cancel the decision for UAL-Ta'al and Balad," Tibi added.
Tibi also said that both UAL and Balad oppose violence of any sort including Israel's Gaza offensive.
"We are opposed to war; we are opposed to violence, but we are also opposed to the occupation and we want the occupation to end so that a
Palestinian state can be established next to the State of Israel," he explained.
Hassan Jabareen, director-general of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, will submit the petition on behalf of the Arab parties. He argued that the parties' agenda was democratic and therefore legitimate.
"Until now, there is no country in the world, democratic or non-democratic, claiming that if you have a democratic platform that argues for equality, that you are not allowed to participate in the elections," he told AlArabiya.net.
"Israel should not be afraid of democracy, there are Arab Israelis in Israel who deserve to be represented in parliament," he added.
Knesset ban makes Arabs stronger
Jafar Farah, director of the human rights organization Musawa (Equality), says that despite being a sign of growing racism against Arab Israeli citizens, the decision that strives for a Knesset without Arabs is bound to increase the solidarity of Arabs in Israel.
"In this racist atmosphere in the Jewish state, this racism and marginalization will only lead to more solidarity between the Arab public and its leadership."
"Efforts to ban Arab parties from the Knesset are not new, what is new is that the labor party which was known to be moderate has now joined the chorus against Arabs," he told AlArabiya.net
"These are certainly times of extremism in Israel," he added.
Both Arab parties drew political chagrin of the most hawkish elements in the Israeli government for opposing the ongoing war on Gaza, with Balad making enemies by calling for equal rights for all citizens of Israel, regardless of national or ethnic identity, which the ruling Kadima Party said would “undermine Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.”
In 2003 the elections committee disqualified Balad and its leader at the time, Azmi Bishara, from running for the 16th Knesset. The party appealed to the High Court which overturned the decision.