Israel's election commission has banned a second Israeli-Arab politician from competing in legislative elections later this month. The move is sparking accusations that the right wing dominated commission is violating the rules of democracy.
In a close vote in the early morning hours Wednesday, the election commission barred Knesset member Azmi Bishara and his Balad party from running in the January 28 legislative elections.
The commission is made up of representatives of political parties, but dominated by conservatives. Some lawmakers accuse Mr. Bishara of supporting the armed Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and of advocating the destruction of the state of Israel. Mr. Bishara says he has never condoned violence, but does support and has spoken out in favor of the right of people to resist occupation.
On Monday the same commission banned another Arab-Israeli legislator, Ahmed Tibi, from running in the upcoming elections. Mr. Tibi has also been accused of backing Palestinian violence, a charge he denies.
While it banned the two Arab legislators, the election commission approved the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, a well known Jewish anti-Arab extremist. Mr. Marzel was associated with the movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, which advocated expelling Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The decision to ban the two Israeli-Arab politicians and to approve the candidacy of a Jewish extremist has sparked accusations that the commission is ignoring basic democratic principles and is widening the rift between Israel's Jews and Arabs.
Israeli Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population and have long complained that they are treated as second class citizens.
Israel's supreme court is to review the commission's decision on all three cases next week.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fired his government's deputy cabinet minister for infrastructure, Naomi Blumenthal, on Tuesday. Mr. Sharon said her refusal to answer police questions about alleged election fraud within the ruling Likud Party was tainting the party's image.
Authorities are probing allegations that members of the Likud central committee took bribes to put names on the list of top candidates it is drawing up for the upcoming election.