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Balad ( , an acronym for Brit Le'umit Demokratit ( , lit. National Democratic Assembly); , al-Tajamu' al-Watani al-Dīmūqrati or بلد, lit. Hometown) is an Israeli Arab political party in Israelmarker led by Jamal Zahalka. It is sometimes called the "National Democratic Alliance".

Ideology

Balad is an Arab nationalist political party, whose stated purpose is the 'struggle to transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens, irrespective of national or ethnic identity.' Balad also demands that the state of Israel recognize Palestinian Arabs as a national minority, entitled to all rights that come with that status including autonomy in education, culture and media.

The party supports creation of two states based on pre-1967 bordersmarker, with the West Bankmarker, Gaza Stripmarker, and East Jerusalem to constitute a Palestinian state and the implementation of UN Resolution 194 regarding the right of return to Palestinian refugees.

Balad describes itself as a 'democratic progressive national party for the Palestinian citizens of Israel.'

Since its creation, it has objected to every proposed state budget submitted on the grounds that it discriminates against the Arab population.

History

Balad was formed and registered as a political party in 1995, by a group of young Israeli Arab intellectuals headed by Azmi Bishara. In the 1999 elections, Balad ran on a joint ticket with Ta'al, headed by MK Ahmad Tibi. They won two seats. However, a request was submitted that same year for the list to disband, and did so after the Knesset approved the request. Bishara remained its only member.

In 2002 party leader Azmi Bishara was indicted on the grounds that he "knowingly assisted Israeli citizens to enter Syria without approval of the Minister of Interior" and for speeches "made at two different gatherings that were reported by the media, one in Umm al-Fahmmarker marking the passage of 33 years since the Six-Day War, and the other in Kardaha, Syria, marking the first anniversary of the death of Syria’s President, Hafez al-Assad" praising Hezbollah. The trial was however cancelled, after The High Court of Justice ruled in favor of a petition submitted by Bishara where he protested that his speeches were protected by legal immunity, which is granted to all Knessetmarker members in order to allow them to fulfill their duties. His parliamentary immunity was immediately restored.

Prior to the 2003 elections, the Central Elections Committee banned the party from running by a one-vote margin, claiming it did not respect Israel's legally-mandated status as a Jewish state and that its leader supported terrorism. The move to ban Balad was initiated by Michael Kleiner, the leader of the right-wing Herut party, who alleged that Balad was "a cover-up for illegal activity" and that it "supports terror organizations, identifies with the enemy and acts against Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." The Gush Shalom activist group criticized the decision saying it introduced into the committee the 'aggressive, predatory and racist attitudes of the majority of the extreme right' who they believe favor banning all Arab MKs. Bishara personally responded to the Election Committee's charges that he supported Hezbollah by saying, "I believe that a people living under occupation [have] the right to fight against it, but I never called on the Palestinians to embark on an armed struggle against Israel. I never supported violent activity." The Elections Committee had also voted to ban Ahmad Tibi of the Ta'al party who had formed an electoral alliance with the left wing Hadash coalition..

However, the bans on both parties were overturned by the Israeli Supreme Courtmarker. Supreme Court Justice Misha'el Kheshin told the election committee that Bishara's past expressions of support for Hezbollah in Lebanon had angered him, although he voted to allow him to run in the elections because "Israel's democracy is strong and can tolerate irregular cases", and thought that there was insufficient evidence for the ban. Balad won three seats in the elections, filled by Bishara, Wasil Taha, and Jamal Zahalka.

In the 2006 elections Balad won three seats, which were taken by Bishara, Taha, and Zahalka. However, more controversy was to come when all three visited Syriamarker in September 2006. They returned to Israel on 16 September, saying they plan to return to Syria again "if necessary." A police investigation will be opened against them as well. Member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, head of the Balad party, told: "Israel won't tell us with which Arabs we can forge ties."

On April 22, 2007, Bishara resigned from the Knesset via the Israeli Embassy in Cairomarker following a police investigation into his alleged assistance of Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon War, and various other criminal charges including money laundering. He was said to be "considering staying abroad because he feared a long term jail sentence and an end to his political career." Bishara was replaced in the Knesset by Said Nafa.

On January 12, 2009, Balad was disqualified from the 2009 Israeli elections by the Central Elections Committee by a vote of 26 to three, with one abstention. It was disqualified on grounds that it does not recognize the State of Israel and calls for armed conflict against it. Zahalka argued that the decision was related to Operation Cast Lead, and said that he is not surprised by it "because the vote was taken for political motives due to the war atmosphere... The committee members sought to increase their popularity at our expense on the backdrop of the elections". On January 19, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, said that he saw no grounds to prevent the Balad from taking part in the election, and noted that the decision was based on "flimsy evidence". On January 21, the Supreme Court of Israelmarker overturned the Committee's decision by a majority of eight to one. Zahalka said: "Balad stands by its platform. The court's decision is a victory to the Arab public and to anyone who seeks democracy… we call on everyone to back the notion of 'a people state' and a life of equality bar discrimination".

Comments on Iran

Haneen Zoubi, a Balad Knessetmarker member, said in March 2009 that she was not worried about the prospect of Iranmarker acquiring nuclear weapons. Instead she suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would act as a counter-power to Israel. Zuabi also welcomed Iran's growing influence on Palestinian affairs, saying that Iran has played a more beneficial role in region than Jordanmarker and Egyptmarker because it stood more firmly "against occupation than a lot of the Arab countries". Balad's chairman, Jamal Zahalka, said that Zuabi's comments represented an "analysis," not a "position," and did not constitute "supporting a nuclear weapon in Iran."

References

  1. Azmi Bishara - National Democratic Alliance Haaretz
  2. Balad's platform Party website
  3. Israeli political parties BBC News, 5 April 2006
  4. National Democratic Assembly - NDA Party website
  5. Israel's 2003 Elections - Political Parties About.com
  6. Balad: A country of all its citizens, cultural autonomy for Arabs Haaretz
  7. Poll ban on Arab Israelis lifted BBC News, 9 January 2003
  8. Right-wing MKs launch bid to disqualify Arab parties Haaretz
  9. Election Committee disqualifies MK Bishara and Balad list Haaretz
  10. Arab Ex-MKs Questioned on Illegal Visit to Syria Arutz Sheva, 18 September 2006
  11. Wanted, for crimes against the state The Guardian, 24 July 2007
  12. Report: MK Bishara leaves Egypt Jerusalem Post, 23 April 2007


External links

  • Arabs48 Newspaper affiliated with Balad
  • Balad Knesset website



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