TEL AVIV - Israel’s Central Election Committee on Thursday disqualified a major party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel from running in forthcoming elections.

The Israeli electoral body said that the Palestinian National Democratic Assembly – commonly known as Balad – had “opposed and rejected the Jewish and democratic character” of Israel.

Israel controversially defines itself as “the state of the Jewish people” while Balad and other Palestinian parties have long campaigned for it to be defined as a state for all its citizens.

Palestinian citizens of Israel make up over 20% of the country’s population.

The Election Committee voted 14-0 to ban Balad from running, but rejected a similar move banning the United Arab List party of Mansour Abbas, which participates in the current Israeli governing coalition, from running.

The banning motion was requested by an Israeli party called “We Are Together Towards a New Social Order”. It was supported by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Balad chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh called the ban “an attempt by Gantz and [Israeli Prime Minister Yair] Lapid to engineer the Arab leadership according to their political needs.”

“Just like the party came out stronger following previous attempts to disqualify us and to disqualify our platform, it won't work this time as well,” he added, in comments reported by Haaretz.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said it would challenge the decision before the Israeli Supreme Court.

Adalah General Director Dr. Hassan Jabareen denounced the Israeli Central Election Committee.

“Israel’s Central Elections Committee is a purely political body, not a legal committee, and it should be abolished. Its decisions are driven primarily by racism and populism, in an attempt to win votes by inciting against Palestinian citizens of Israel and their elected representatives – in particular Balad,” he said.

The Central Election Committee’s decision came after Balad decided to split from the Joint List coalition of Palestinian parties in Israel and run in the elections independently, even though it was not expected to get enough votes to clear the threshold for Knesset representation.

Israel is expected to hold its fifth election in three years in November 2022 after the Knesset was dissolved last June.