High Court Disqualifies Otzma Candidate, Allows Arab Candidates

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir at the High Court on Thursday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)


In a stunning multiple reversal of Central Election Committee decisions, the Israeli High Court on Sunday ruled that Otzma Yehudit candidate Michael Ben Ari was disqualified from running for Knesset, while it said that Balad-United Arab List parties and Hadash candidate Dr. Ofer Kassif were eligible.

It marked the first time that Israeli authorities have banned an individual candidate from running for the Knesset, and over the decision of the Central Elections Committee. In 1988, Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party was banned.

The maximum nine-justice panel voted 8 to 1 in line with the recommendations of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, though the reasons for its decisions will be released at a later date. The Elections Committee vote to permit Ben Ari to run was only by a slender majority.

Mandelblit argued that as distasteful as Balad-UAL and Kassif’s statements about the state of Israel and the IDF were, they did not meet the legal test, what he called a “critical mass,” of advocating armed conflict with Israel, as the law requires for disqualification from running for public office. Therefore, he recommended permitting their candidacies, despite the committee’s ruling.

Ben Ari, however, was judged to have crossed the lines of legality with statements that demonstrated racism against Arabs.

Mandelblit had said that Ben Gvir’s statements skirted that line, but he had been more careful than Ben Ari to avoid explicit support or actions backing racism, which appeared to be why the court declared him eligible though he is also from the far-right Otzma party.

Ben Ari blasted the court’s decision, saying it was the work of a “legal junta” led by Mandelbit that has taken over Israel. “This isn’t a democracy,” he told journalists after the court handed down its ruling. “The legal junta took power and are trying to control our lives.”

Turning his ire on Tamar Zandberg, whose left-wing Meretz party petitioned the court along with MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) to ban his candidacy, he warned: “You won’t be able to suppress us. You, who embrace terrorists and murders, your path is short, but ours will win,” the Times of Israel quoted him as saying.

Zandberg exulted in the victory of the left, saying “Bibi brought in and Meretz took out. Anyone who believes in racial supremacy should be behind bars and not in the Knesset, and it is good that the court spoke clearly. The prime minister’s attempt to bring in the Kahanists is another link in the racist and dark chain that has been created here in recent years, and it is good that there is Meretz, which again stood up to him.”

The right-wing Arutz Sheva news said much the same thing in its headline, though with a different knaitch: “Arab parties in, Otzma Yehudit candidate out.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said on Sunday evening that the High Court’s decision “is a serious mistake and the entire public will pay dearly for it.”

The Union of Right Wing Parties issued its response: “In Israel, the democracy is for appearances only. The judiciary has taken Israeli citizens’ right to choose, in an unprecedented manner.”

Updated Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 4:40 pm add info