Israeli committee bars Arab MP from Knesset polls

By Anees Barghouthy

JERUSALEM (AA) – Israel's Central Election Committee on Thursday voted to ban Israeli-Arab lawmaker Hanin Zoabi from running in parliamentary polls slated for March 17.

The decision was approved by the committee by a vote of 27 to 6.

Speaking before the committee, Zoabi slammed the request to bar her from the poll, which was lodged by the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party (led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman) and MK Yariv Levin (who hails from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party).

"Those responsible for killing civilians in Gaza are the ones who should stand here [i.e., should be barred from contesting the vote], not me," Zoabi said.

"I stand here against the [Israeli] occupation and siege of the Palestinians," she added.

It was not the first time for such a decision to be issued against Zoabi.

In 2003, the same committee issued a similar decision to ban Zoabi from the polls. Israel's Supreme Court later reversed the decision, however, allowing her to run.

Zoabi, a member of the Israeli-Arab Balad Party, had been a vocal critic of last summer's devastating Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, in which at least 2,160 Palestinians – mostly civilians – were killed.

Zoabi also participated in the 2010 "Freedom Flotilla" aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship that had attempted to break Israel's years-long blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israeli naval forces intercepted the flotilla in international waters, however, and killed nine Turkish activists aboard.

Last summer, Zoabi was suspended from the Knesset for a six-month period after making statements about three West Bank Jewish settlers who were kidnapped and later found dead.

At the time, Zoabi had told Israeli public radio that the settlers' abductors were "not terrorists."

Prior to the Knesset's dissolution late last year, Zoabi had been the main target of a bill that had called for stripping MKs of their Knesset seats if they showed any support – moral or otherwise – for armed resistance to Israel's decades-long occupation.

Fresh Knesset elections were set for March 17 following the assembly's dissolution last year after Netanyahu sacked two ministers in his coalition government for criticizing his policies.

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