Arab-Israeli legislators take election case to court

Israel, citing terrorism, barred them from running

January 08, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - A pair of Arab-Israeli legislators who were declared enemies of the state and barred from running for re-election appeared before Israel's Supreme Court yesterday to argue for the right to campaign.

Ahmad Tibi and Azmi Bishara were accused of supporting attacks against Israel and ousted from the elections, scheduled for Jan. 28. Their banishment set off a debate over free speech and discrimination in a nation that prides itself on its democratic rule.

Israel's election committee said Bishara, a political philosopher at Birzeit University, had praised "popular resistance" during a speech in Syria. The Balad Party member also was accused of rallying Palestinians to use the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as a model for uprising.

Based on those charges and secret evidence collected by Israeli intelligence, the prolific author was accused of inciting rebellion, and he and the rest of his party were banned from the elections. Tibi, of the Arab-Jewish Hadash Party, was barred on charges of supporting terrorist organizations.

"There's freedom of speech in Israel, but there's no freedom to call fire in the middle of a crowded cinema," lawyer Yoav Mani told the court in his argument for barring Bishara and his party. "The damage an idea can cause goes beyond a party's electoral power. The idea contaminates the public discourse."

The men were ousted under a process unveiled this fall that allows the Central Elections Committee to disqualify candidates who support terror. The committee presented its argument to the Supreme Court yesterday, and the panel is expected to decide by tomorrow whether to uphold the bans.

"It's a political move, not a security move as they say," said Marwan Dalal, a lawyer for the ousted lawmakers. "It's a clear attempt to limit political speech. These are Palestinians asserting their right to self-determination and to resist the occupation. This is annoying for the Israeli government."

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