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Court Allows 2 Arab Candidates to Run in Upcoming Knesset Elections

January 10, 2003
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With a ruling it issued this week, Israel’s Supreme Court has likely turned back a wave of discontent among Israeli Arab voters complaining they were shut out of the democratic process.

In Thursday’s ruling, the high court overturned a recent decision by the Central Election Committee to bar two Israeli Arab legislators, Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Beshara, from participating in the Jan. 28 election.

The committee recently voted to bar the two, citing their anti-Israel stances.

The committee also cited statements made by Beshara backing armed struggle against Israel.

Following Thursday’s ruling, Tibi praised the court for blocking the “anti-democratic avalanche” led by right-wing forces that had sought to block the Israeli Arab candidates.

“Justice has been done,” Beshara said. “This is how democracy is supposed to work.”

In Thursday’s session, the panel of 11 justices also upheld the committee’s decisions to allow far-right activist Baruch Marzel to run, and to disqualify Likud Party candidates Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Feiglin on technical grounds.

The rulings, especially those involving Arab candidates, set off political fireworks.

National Religious Party legislator Shaul Yahalom said the high court justices are out of touch with “the values of the Israeli people.”

He said that in permitting Beshara to run, the court gave a “slap in the face” to Israel’s attorney general and Shin Bet domestic security service, which had sought his disqualification.

The court’s decision to uphold the candidacy of Marzel also drew political reaction.

Labor Party Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz, who had petitioned against his candidacy, said it set a worrying precedent.

“The country may pay for this dearly,” Army Radio quoted Pines-Paz as saying. “This is a dangerous person, who is continuing Kahane’s ways.”

During the Central Election Committee hearings on his candidacy, Marzel had declared that he no longer held the extremist, anti-Arab ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and the outlawed Kach movement.

One justice opposed the decision to uphold the disqualification of Feiglin.

Feiglin was disqualified under a law prohibiting anyone who has served at least three months in jail for a crime involving moral turpitude from running for the Knesset for seven years.

Feiglin, a former leader of Zo Artzeinu, served a six-month jail sentence for sedition because of his activities opposing the Oslo accords.

Feiglin argued that his crime did not involve moral turpitude.

The court unanimously voted to disqualify the candidacy of Mofaz on technical grounds, saying he had not been out of the army long enough to run for Knesset.

Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, was disqualified based on a law requiring a six-month cooling-off period between military service and running for the Knesset.

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