Bid to disqualify Arab MP from Israel poll draws fire

JERUSALEM – Arab civil society organizations in Israel have rejected calls by right-wing Israeli parties to prohibit Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi from running in next month's general elections.

"We stand in solidarity with Zoabi, who is resisting attempts at revoking her [Knesset] candidacy, which aims at restricting Arab representation in the assembly as a whole," read a statement by 21 Israel-based Arab rights organizations.

"It is clear that such calls are targeting Zoabi for meeting her voters' expectations," the joint statement added.

The show of support comes one day before Israel's electoral commission is scheduled to look into requests 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) to delete Zoabi's from the candidate list.

Last summer, Zoabi, who represents the National Democratic Alliance Party, was suspended from the Knesset for six months over statements she made about three West Bank Jewish settlers who were kidnapped and later found dead.

Zoabi had told Israeli public radio at the time 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 lawmakers of their Knesset seats if they showed any support – moral or otherwise – for armed resistance against the Israeli occupation.

"There are no statements by Zoabi that could prove her support for armed action by terrorist groups against Israel," read a statement issued by Adalah, an NGO devoted to monitoring the status Israel's Arab citizens.

The organization said Zoabi's statements had been distorted, going on to describe calls to prohibit her from contesting the polls as "racist and shallow."

Zoabi was also a vocal critic of last summer's devastating Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which left at least 2,160 Palestinians – mostly civilians – dead.

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 forces intercepted the flotilla, however, and killed nine Turkish activists aboard.

Knesset elections were set for March 17 following the assembly's dissolution last year after Netanyahu sacked two ministers from his coalition government who had been increasingly critical of his policies.

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