The party vowed to boycott the election should she be banned.
There were other obvious problems with the case. The attorney-general had closed the investigation into her participation on the Mavi Marmara in 2011, having found no evidence she broke any law. Furthermore, Israel had not declared the IHH, the Turkish group behind the Mavi Marmara, a "terrorist" organization at the time of the flotilla. In fact, one of her lawyers, Hassan Jabareen of the human rights group Adalah, surprised the court by revealing that the IHH had not been designated as such until a few weeks before the court hearing.
But as a Haaretz editorial noted, evidence was beside the point: "what we're dealing with is a political crusade against all the Arab political parties" ("The Zuabi test," 30 December 2012). An opinion poll in December showed 55 percent of Israeli Jews thought a ban on Zoabi would be justified.
The high court overturned Zoabi's disqualification and did so unanimously. Following the decision, Zoabi observed that "this ruling does little to erase the threats, delegitimization and physical and verbal abuse that I have endured -- in and outside the Knesset -- over the past three years" ("Supreme Court: MK Zoabi can run for Knesset," Ynet, 30 December 2012).
For dramatic effect, she had hoped to make her statement to the waiting media as she left the courtroom. But instead she had to be ushered out of a back door to safety as more than two dozen right-wing extremists, led by Michael Ben Ari, blocked her path and started shoving and threatening her escorts. Ben Ari and his Strong Israel party activists were left in charge of the courtroom to denounce the judges' decision.
Legislators from other right-wing parties criticised the decision too. Yariv Levine of Netanyahu's Likud party said: "Unless MK Zoabi blows herself up in the Knesset, the high court justices won't understand that she has no place there" ("Right lambasts court after Israeli Arab MK cleared to run," Israel Hayom, 30 December 2012).
The joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party issued a statement saying it would introduce yet more legislation to restrict the rights of the country's Palestinian citizens and their representatives: "any expression of support for terror should be grounds for disqualification for running for election in the Israeli Knesset. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu will immediately act during the next Knesset to fix the existing laws" ("Supreme Court allows MK Zoabi to run for election," +972, 30 December 2012).Center-left's flip
The Central Elections Committee's decision not to ban the whole NDA list came as a surprise to observers, especially given the dominance of the right. Tel Aviv law professor Aeyal Gross suggested that committee members realized from their previous efforts that they were doomed to failure ("The Supreme Court has again rescued the shards of Israeli democracy," Haaretz, 30 December 2012).
However, it is fairly difficult to believe that most of the committee members were capable of thinking so dispassionately. In any case, disqualifying Arab parties, whether ultimately futile, has other benefits for the right: it reinforces the message to Jewish voters that the Palestinian public is a fifth column, and it reminds them that the high court needs to be radically overhauled to make it more accountable to public opinion.
Awad Abdel Fattah, secretary-general of the NDA, offered a different reading of the committee's behavior. He noted that the right-wing parties voted as feverishly for a ban of his party as ever. It was saved by a switch of positions among what has been termed the "center-left" bloc.
The so-called "center-left" -- a term the bloc has embraced to signify its ability to become a genuine alternative to Netanyahu and the right -- might in countries other than Israel be described as the "center-right." Its three principal parties -- Shelley Yacimovich's Labor, Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah, and former TV anchorman Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid -- are still heavily influenced by neoliberal economic doctrine; they have not challenged the ballooning defense budget or proposed a way to plug the resulting record deficit; and they have kept the Israeli-Palestinian conflict well in the background of their platforms.
In this case, the parties' claim to left-wing or centrist credentials derive from their emphasis on reducing the tensions that Netanyahu has allowed to escalate between Israel and its sponsors, the US and the European Union. The center-left is concerned about Israel's image abroad and making the necessary concessions -- including reviving an endless peace process with the Palestinians -- to prevent a further deterioration in Israel's strategic position.
According to Abdel Fattah, the "center-left" is starting to panic, fearing that the momentum of the shift rightwards may soon prove unstoppable. Without concerted action to shore up a credible opposition to Netanyahu, Israel is hurtling towards full-blown fascism at home and pariah status abroad.Far-right coup
The lurch to the right is discernible in two key developments during the election campaign.
The first was an effective coup by the far-right in the Likud's recent primaries. The party's last few "moderates" have now been replaced by ultra-nationalists, including religious settlers. Moshe Feiglin, this latter group's controversial figurehead, won the 23rd slot on the joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu, ensuring his place in the parliament for the first time.
The second is the rapid rise during the campaign of the Jewish Home party, under its new leader Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief of staff. Bennett has reinvented the faction, shedding its image as simply a settlers' party. A hi-tech entrepreneur, Bennett has injected political glamour and won converts from the center by emphasising a "return to Jewish values."