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Israel bans Arab parties from running in upcoming elections

Source:The Associated Press
Date:13/01-2009

The Central Elections Committee on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month's parliamentary elections, drawing accusations of racism by an Arab lawmaker who said he would challenge the decision in the country's Supreme Court.

The ruling, made by the body that oversees the elections, reflected the heightened tensions between Israel's Jewish majority and Arab minority caused by Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Arabs have held a series of demonstrations against the offensive.

Knesset spokesman Giora Pordes said the election committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion, accusing the country's Arab parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist. Arab lawmakers have traveled to countries listed among Israel's staunchest enemies, including Lebanon and Syria.
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The 37-member committee is composed of representatives from Israel's major political parties. The measure was proposed by two ultranationalist parties but received widespread support.

The decision does not affect Arab lawmakers in predominantly Jewish parties or the country's communist party, which has a mixed list of Arab and Jewish candidates. Roughly one-fifth of Israel's 7 million citizens are Arabs. Israeli Arabs enjoy full citizenship rights, but have suffered from discrimination and poverty for decades.

Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning Monday's decision.

"It was a political trial led by a group of Fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs," said Tibi.

Together, the Arab lists hold seven of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

Tibi said he would appeal to the high court, while Zahalka said his party was still deciding how to proceed.

Pordes remarked that the last time a party was banned it was the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach Party, a list from the 1980s that advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.