January 13, 2003

A Supreme Court ruling reinforces Israel’s democratic values.The Israeli Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow the participation of Arab politicians Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bishara and the Balad party in the upcoming Knesset elections on January 28 was a just and wise move.

The ruling was justified in light of the fact that there was no evidence that these candidates in any way undermined the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel or supported a violent struggle against it. The court decision was also a correct decision in that potential damage to Israeli democracy, coexistence and the international standing of the state was prevented.

The Supreme Court decision lends a new validity to the rights of the Arab minority as citizens of Israel. This kind of a statement was necessary at the present time. According to a recent survey, 77 percent of Arabs question have expressed fears that their rights may be damaged in the future. 61 percent were afraid of violence on the part of the state and the Jewish population, and 36 percent feared expulsion.

The decision of the Supreme Court is not the end of all such worries. There is still the report of the Orr commission regarding the events of October 2000 in which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by police during riots that broke out in support of the Palestinian uprising, and the incitement trial of Knesset member Azmi Bishara in the future.

However, the Supreme Court decision sends a loud and clear message to the authorities, to the right-wing parties and to the Jewish public that they must moderate their reactions to what they see – unjustifiably – as Arab subversion of state foundations.

The Supreme Court decision will certainly help halt the deterioration of Arab-Jewish relations within Israel that has taken place since the Rabin assassination. It will not be interpreted by the Arab public as legitimization of extremist positions, but as the basis of a renewed and refreshed dialogue with the Jewish population. Israeli Arabs are looking for ways to reduce the high price they have paid since the events of October 2000 and the rehabilitation of relationships with their Jewish counterparts.

For the Israeli Arab voter, participation in these Knesset elections will be significant in several ways: it is an expression of belonging to the state, to electing its leaders, to strengthening the political front which will prevent a narrow right-wing coalition, uniting with the forces of peace and helping the Palestinian people.

The Supreme Court’s decision puts an end to the hope of some elements in the Jewish public that there would be reduced Arab participation in the Knesset elections and the talk among some in the Arab population of a boycott of the elections.

If the Arab voting rate is 75 percent, as it was in the 1999 elections, or even exceeds that number, Arabs in Israel will achieve 10 mandates in the election, a net advantage for the leftist peace camp. It is likely that the participation of Arabs will be high this time in order to send a message of their rights as citizens. Voting will be seen as a chance to fight against the right-wing camp, and fight for the expectation and the belief that Arab voters can influence the outcome of the election.

Originally published in Yediot Aharonot.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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