There is something unpalatable about banning political parties. During the coldest days of the Cold War, American voters were never deprived of the chance to vote for Gus Hall and his Soviet-funded Communist Party USA. In Germany, voters can today opt for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. The British National Party, whose mission is to secure a future for "indigenous" white people, is there for UK voters.
In contrast, authoritarian countries show little compunction about banning. Saudi Arabia bars the Green Party; Sudan and Cuba outlaw all parties. And Syria allows opposition parties that accept the "vanguard role" of the ruling Ba'ath Party.
On Monday, the Knesset Central Elections Committee, comprising 25 politicians and one jurist, disqualified Balad and the United Arab List from running in the February 10 elections. The consensus was that both support terrorism, incitement and reject Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Arab critics retorted that the decision proved Israel is "racist" and "fascist."
The High Court of Justice, which overruled an effort to disqualify Balad prior to the 2006 elections, will make the final call. The attorney-general's office is on record as determining that there is not enough evidence to disqualify either party.
But overturning the ban this time may be harder. The Knesset recently passed a new law based on clause 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which outlaws candidates who deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; engage in incitement, or support violence against Israel by an enemy state or terror organization. The amended legislation adds that anyone who illegally visited an enemy state in the past seven years can be banned.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on challenges to the amended law.
DEMOCRACIES are not obligated to commit suicide. Spain, for instance, bans the political party affiliated with the terror group ETA. Similarly, US law makes it illegal for an organization that abets the use of violence against the government to seek office.
The case for banning Balad seems fairly plain. While it's off-putting to hear MK Jamal Zahalka say, "We are not Zionists and we will never be," the reason for keeping his party out of the Knesset is that it refuses to dissociate from its former leader Azmi Bishara - with whom Zahalka proudly consults - who fled to Syria after the Second Lebanon War, fearing arrest as a Hizbullah agent.
The case against Tibi's UAL party is not clear-cut. He is perhaps the most intellectually formidable of the Arab anti-Zionists, has a disarming personality, and calibrates his actions to stay just within the law. He won't declare unequivocally that he opposes terrorism, merely "militarization of the intifada."
At a 2007 Fatah rally in Ramallah, Tibi urged continued struggle against Israel "until all of the Palestinian land is freed." Yasser Arafat's former consigliere tells Palestinians that Israel wants to "eliminate" them "en route to the elimination of the ideas of Palestinian freedom and liberty."
Tibi says he does not oppose the state - just its policies. And he too declares that Arab citizens "will never accept Zionism..." He will not, he says, stop visiting enemy states.
Paradoxically, the disappearance of Balad and UAL from the Knesset might allow the emergence of Arab parties that actually cared about building the kinds of parliamentary alliances that can get things done for the Arab sector.
Israel's proportional representation system allowed the UAL and Balad to gain six seats in the current Knesset. The tragic dynamic is that the more radical the party, the more support it garners from the Arab public. It doesn't help matters that the major parties give Arab voters little incentive to shun the extremists.
In a world where 21 states define themselves as "Arab," and 56 proudly identify as Islamic, we do have a problem with Knesset members who begrudge Jewish self-determination within the rubric of a democratic Israel that respects minority rights.
The Likud's Bennie Begin cautions that Israeli society must be "very, very, careful" about outlawing factions or disenfranchising constituencies in wartime. To that we would add: But neither should our polity shy away from making tough decisions to protect the system from those who would destabilize it.
Is it any coincidence that the European Union seek to pass the same laws?