The Israeli-Arab political party Balad is to sue an Israeli journalist who called the group a "terrorist organisation".
Balad yesterday filed the defamation claim against high-profile Israeli journalist Amit Segal – who often works as a reporter on Israel's Channel 12 – demanding 280,000 shekel ($77,500), a public apology and retraction of all articles containing the comment, the Times of Israel reported.
In February, Segal wrote an op-ed for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he called Balad "a terror-supporting organisation with party funding". He then repeated the comment on Channel 12, saying the party is a "terror group with party funding".
The lawsuit claims that Segal's comments were "malicious, offensive, cynical and irresponsible, with the goal of trying to embarrass the plaintiffs [Balad], spill their blood, incite against them and make them a target for hate using a publication that is false and incites to racism, violence and persecution."
Balad's recently elected Chairman, Mtanes Shehadeh, said of the lawsuit that "Segal, who is known for his far-right views, crossed the line and used his status to hurt the party during elections," which are slated for 9 April. He continued: "We won't allow damage to the legitimacy of Balad, which represents the national movement within the Arab society and has the most democratic policy platform — a state of all its citizens."
Balad – which last month announced that it would run on a joint slate with the other nationalist Israeli-Arab party, Ra'am – has repeatedly been targeted by Israeli commentators and establishment figures for its defence of Palestinian citizens of Israel's rights and its affiliation with the broader Palestinian national movement.
Just yesterday, Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejected a petition to ban the Ra'am-Balad alliance from participating in April's general election. The petition claimed that the alliances' members "seek to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state" and support violent Palestinian resistance, as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah. The petition was rejected by Mandelblit due to a lack of evidence. A similar petition was also filed against Israel's other predominantly-Arab parties, Hadash-Ta'al, who formerly made up the Joint List alliance.
Prominent Balad Knesset Member (MK) Haneen Zoabi has repeatedly been attacked with similar accusations throughout her career. In June, then Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for Zoabi to be dismissed from her position, describing her as a "terrorist" who "promotes terror" against the Israeli army.
In December, Zoabi was "severely reprimanded" by the Knesset's Ethics Committee over comments she made about Israel's attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip. During a Knesset debate, Zoabi had said that Palestinian civilians in Gaza had been "murdered by [Israeli] soldiers," leading the decision to rule that "the use of the expression […] was not worthy of the broad protection that the committee spreads over the freedom of political expression of MKs".
In January, Zoabi announced that she would not run for re-election in April, citing "character assassinations" and "ongoing incitement" levelled against her. In an interview with MEMO this month, Zoabi lambasted Israel's treatment of its Israeli-Arab MKs and Palestinian citizens in general. She explained: "There is a strong sense of justification that allows Israel to discriminate against its own Palestinian citizens. There is an ethical discourse to make you feel that you must appreciate the country even if you are only given ten per cent of your rights."
Zoabi added that to combat this, Balad will continue to "campaign for a state for all its citizens and to challenge the idea of a Jewish and democratic state […] The only way to co-exist with us [Palestinians] is to remove colonial objectives from the agenda and develop a state for all of Israeli citizens. It will not be at the expense of our identity and our connection with Palestinians everywhere."