Ben-Ari Ban Sparks Legislative Threats Against High Court

Otzma Yehudit party member Michael Ben-Ari. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The decision by the High Court to allow far-left candidate Ofer Kassif to run in the election, and to permit the Arab parties to appear on the ballot – but to ban Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben-Ari – has succeeded in forcing the candidate’s removal from the United Right List’s candidate pool, but it has also ignited already strong passions on the right against the intervention by the court in political matters.

In response to the decision, a host of politicians have proposed future legislation that will “cut the court’s authority down to its appropriate size.”

Those were the words of New Right list head Naftali Bennett, who said that “the court has given us no choice – we have to act. We will present a plan that will complete the judicial revolution we started, a plan that will restore governance to the state and allow the IDF to act without the limitations of the court.”

That plan was presented by New Right candidate and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked Monday. Speaking at an economic conference in Yerushalayim, Shaked proposed doing away with a committee that appoints High Court judges – most of whose members are made up of former and current court judges.

Shaked has long proposed this, claiming that the committee allows the judges to form a small “club” that enables them to appoint those who have the same political beliefs that they do.

She also pledged to pass within her first 100 days as Justice Minister in a new government a law that will allow the Knesset to override court decisions, and legislation to limit the right of individuals to bring petitions to the court, unless they have a standing in the case. Currently, any individual can petition the court on any issue.

The plan Shaked proposed is a compendium of proposals she has made in the past, but in the current government, all such legislation was shelved, at the demand of Moshe Kahlon, who made suspension of changes to the status of the High Court a condition of his joining the coalition. In recent weeks, however, Kahlon said that he would not defend the court in the same manner in the next government.

Criticizing the Ben-Ari decision, Kahlon said that “Israeli democracy is strong enough to handle his opinions. The court needs to know its limits. I am not happy that the court intervenes in decisions on the price of tobacco and milk,” two issues in which the court recently struck down policies that Kahlon tried to implement as Finance Minister.

Also threatening legislation to limit the court was Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who said that “it is absurd that the court would intervene in decisions of the Central Election Committee, to allow Ben-Ari to run, and to ban those who hate Israel,’ Kassif and one of the Arab parties. “I will propose a law in the next Knesset to ban the court from intervening in committee decisions. We will do everything we can to prevent the Arab fifth column from getting into the Knesset altogether.”

Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich said he would call a special Knesset session to deal with the matter, and thus possibly restore Ben-Ari to the ballot. In a letter to heads of the parties in the current coalition, Smotrich said that “the time has come to move past talk, and to act. For the first time, we have a ‘council of wise men’ who have decided that one man be banned for his opinions, but have allowed parties identified with our enemies to run. This matter must be fixed at once.”

Although the court decision cannot be appealed, the Knesset, Smotrich said, must use its authority to challenge it. A vote by the Knesset would certainly instigate a constitutional crisis, and would force the issue of the authority of the Knesset to make its own decisions, he said.

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