By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
It didn’t come as a surprise to those who’ve faith in Israel’s Supreme Court as the guarantor of Israel’s democracy, but it came as an expected shock to its right-wing detractors: last Sunday the Supreme Court overruled the decision taken earlier this month by the political Central Elections Committee to ban the controversial Member of Knesset Hanin Zoabi of the Arab party Balad to run in the January 22 elections.
Against the advice of the Attorney General, 19 members of the committee voted in favour of the ban and only nine against. The reason/excuse of the majority was that by participating in the Gaza blockade, Zoabi has aided and abetted terrorism and, therefore, is a danger to the State of Israel. Though I understand that the law isn’t unequivocal, the Supreme Court was nevertheless unanimous in its decision to allow her to run.
This sort of thing has happened before: politicians try to limit the freedom of those they don’t like and the Supreme Court comes to the rescue of the accused. The danger is that soon those who don’t like Zoabi may end up with enough power to manipulate the Supreme Court. There’s already talk about changing the law as a way of limiting the Court’s decisions. Then Israel will be in big trouble.
The 40-year old Hanin Zoabi comes from a well-connected Muslim family in Nazareth and has degrees from two Israeli universities. She’s an aggressive, vociferous and often objectionable politician who has been a Member of Knesset for a few years and wants to stay there. Many of those who voted to oust her are no less objectionable because of their extreme views, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum.
But whether we like her or not, the democratic process, as rightly perceived by the Supreme Court, must allow her to run for office no less than her detractors. She does represent an opinion among Israel’s Arabs who feel discriminated against in the country they consider as much theirs as do the Jews. They oppose the idea of a Jewish state and want a secular state for all citizens. That’s why, for example, she walked out from the last swearing-in ceremony in the Knesset during Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
No doubt her stance challenges the Zionist vision and there may not be much room for Jews in Israel if she prevails. But she and her Arab colleagues are by no means the only politicians to oppose, or at least question, Zionism. The ultra-Orthodox Yahadut Hatorah party is openly non-Zionist. Yet, one of its Knesset members, Ya’akov Litzman, is Israel’s “Deputy Minister” of Health; there’s no Minister of Health.
He’s “deputy minister” because that enables him to be in charge of a ministry without being part of the cabinet. But whereas Litzman is respected, perhaps because he’s a Jew and ultra-Orthodox to boot, Zoabi is not, perhaps because she’s an Arab and a radical to boot. Though Litzman objects to Yeshiva students serving in the army and Zoabi doesn’t want Israeli Arabs there, he’s a member of the government and she’s described as its enemy. No wonder she accuses her detractors of being racists.
At the time of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, one of the spices in the incense that was offered up by the priests had a terrible stench. Yet it had to be there because the sacrifice was made on behalf of all the people, including the stinkers. For similar reasons, Israel’s Knesset, like every democratic parliament, has to include members whom the majority may have good reason to abhor. Having been democratically elected, they’re entitled to be there – Hanin Zoabi not less than Ya’akov Litzman.