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Barred Arab candidate allowed to run in Israeli election

Israel's highest court has overturned a decision by the country's electoral commission to disqualify an Arab lawmaker from running in upcoming elections. The candidate was involved in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday overruled a decision by the country's electoral commission to disqualify an Arab-Israeli politician from running for office in the January 22 parliamentary elections.

The nine-judge court unanimously dismissed the argument there were sufficient grounds to disqualify Arab Balad party hopeful, Hanin Zoabi, from standing for election, saying she "shall be a candidate for the Knesset [parliament] in next month's poll."

The ruling, published on Sunday, did not outline specific arguments put forth by those seeking to have Zoabi, who entered parliament in 2009 as the first Arab-Israeli female representative, disqualified.

More than two-dozen extreme-right activists attempted to block Zoabi from leaving the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem, pushing her and yelling insults, including "Terrorist, go to Gaza."

Right-wing and ultra-right parliamentarians criticized the court's decision, saying the legal system in Israel was a "left-wing stronghold," and Zoabi had, in the past, "supported terrorists."

Opposition to Israeli blockade

Zoabi drew widespread criticism in Israel when she joined pro-Palestinian activists in the 2010 international aid flotilla challenging the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, a territory ruled by Hamas Islamists opposing the existence of the Jewish state.

Nine activists were shot dead in clashes aboard the ships, but Zoabi said she did not participate in the violent confrontation, nor did she witness it.

Earlier this month, Israel's Central Elections Commission voted to disallow Zoabi based on the reading of the Basic Law, which states "anyone who denies Israel's existence as a Jewish state, or supports armed struggle against it, may not be a candidate for the Knesset."

Zoabi told reporters on Sunday that the attempt to disqualify her had been "motivated by political persecution against her, her party and the Arab public in Israel as whole."

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan condemned the ruling saying Zoabi had been involved in "expressing solidarity with our enemies."

jlw/ rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)