As a popular party with Israel’s large Arab minority, the Balad Party has been seen as a prime mover behind the nation’s domestic antiwar movement. Though officials have repeatedly warned them that “there is a limit to democracy” in Israel, this opposition party never seems to have fully learned its lesson.
“The goals of Hamas and Balad are the same: to destroy Israel,” insists the always bellicose Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who favors a ban on the party. The Balad Party’s stated goal is to “transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity,” a goal which makes it dangerously radical in a state which views its non-Jewish citizens as second-class in the best of times and traitors during most wars.
Balad was barred from the 2003 elections amid claims that it was secretly involved in terrorism, though this ban was later overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court citing insufficient evidence. Lieberman hopes to see the ban renewed in time for next month’s elections, and in a war-time Israel where censorship is rampant and antiwar protesters are traitors to the state, he may just get his wish.
The Central Elections Committee is expected to vote on Balad’s ban tomorrow, and with the ruling Kadima Party on board it seems likely to pass. Kadima says that though it supports giving the Arab minority “due representation,” the Israeli government has an obligation to defend itself from Balad who “is trying to undermine Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.”
Banning a party for calling for equal rights may fit with some Israeli politicians’ ideals of what a “Jewish state” should be, but with at least one journalist already arrested for violating the growing wartime censorship regime and minorities under growing threat from Israeli police for protesting government policies the ban of an opposition party for demanding equal rights for its constituents is likely to add to the growing concerns about Israel’s claims to be anything resembling a bastion of freedom in the Middle East.