Liberman Moves to Keep Balad Leader from Running for Knesset

By Shmuel Smith

MK Sami Abou Shehadeh, leader of the Balad party. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM — Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is seeking to bar the leader of Balad from running in the November election, following its breakup with other members of the Arab Joint List.

In a letter to the Central Election Committee, Yisrael Beytenu asserted that Balad leader Abou Shahadeh “must be outside of the Israeli Knesset. One who denies the existence of the State of Israel and does not recognize it as a Jewish and democratic state is not worthy of being part of [the Knesset] — it is fitting for him to be part of the parliament in Ramallah, that’s his place.”

The letter asks the CEC to disqualify him, which would require the votes of at least one third of the 34 committee members.

The move is based on Article 7A the Basic Law of the Knesset, which states that the candidacy of a member of the Knesset must be disqualified if their actions or statements have the effect of denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting racism, or supporting an armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.

It triggered immediate controversy. “We will stand by Balad,” Hadash chairman MK Ayman Odeh said on Army Radio. “They are not extreme, if they were born in this country and want a ‘state of all its citizens,'” he said.

Ta’al leader MK Ahmad Tibi said on KAN Radio, “Hadash-Ta’al is opposed to the fascist and racist request by Liberman to block MK Sami Abou Shahadeh.”

The chair of the Meretz faction, MK Michal Rozin, said her party would vote against disqualification.

Balad denounced the petition, calling it “an attempt to silence the uncompromising political voice” of Abou Shehadeh.

Shahadeh told Army Radio that he believed Liberman ordered the move only to get headlines, as his right-wing party remains in single digits near the electoral threshold, according to recent polling.

“I’m not interested in this violent man [Liberman], who supports transferring [Arab citizens out of Israel]… Liberman is not far from the electoral threshold and therefore is trying to attract extremist voters,” Shahadeh said.

Balad split off from Hadash and Ta’al, the other two parties in the Joint List, on Thursday, which is expected to lower Arab voter turnout and work to the advantage of opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc, which has been struggling to attain the 61 seats needed form a government.

However, that’s if Balad comes in below the electoral threshold. But if Balad, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am all cross the threshold, it could seriously harm Netanyahu’s chances of forming a narrow right-wing government.

But with Balad’s prospects looking bleak according to the latest poll, Netanyahu will work behind the scenes to ensure that no one from his bloc supports the petition to disqualify Balad, a senior official told Ynet.

Meretz chief Zehava Galon claims to see a silver lining in the Joint List breakup. “I think what happened now is an opportunity for Lapid, because Hadash and Ta’al are certainly parties that can be under consideration” for participating in a future coalition, unlike the more extreme Balad, Galon told Army Radio.

“If Lapid wants to be prime minister together with Gantz and the so-called change bloc, he needs Arab representatives, Ra’am, Hadash and Ta’al on his side,” Galon adds, noting that Meretz can play a “critical role in mediating, serving as a bridge between the Arab parties and Lapid and Gantz, because of our close ties.”

On Sunday night, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope party, expressed a different point of view.

“I don’t know about Lapid, but in the name of Gideon Sa’ar and the National Unity party, we will not agree to a government that relies on the Joint List – period,” said Sa’ar, referring to his alliance with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White under the banner of National Unity, according to the Times of Israel.

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