An advertisement for the Otzma Yehudit party featuring Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzti Gopstein in Jerusalem, February 14, 2019.
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
The Central Elections Committee hearings on whether to disqualify candidates has long been little more than political theater. The politicians on each side argue how bad the opposite side’s extremes are, and whichever side has a majority wins.
The real arena has always been the High Court of Justice, to which the committee’s decisions are always inevitably appealed.
That’s why the cries about racism and the end of Israeli democracy – after the committee vote two weeks ago to keep Otzma Yehudit candidates Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir in the running, while banning UAL-Balad and Hadash candidate Ofer Kassif – were overblown. They were generally the result of cynicism from those who would speak like that about Israel or the Right no matter what; or of ignorance, especially from foreign outlets whose reporters are only in Israel for a few years and may not have gone through these motions before.
And then there are those who are both ignorant and cynical, like American anti-Israel agitator Linda Sarsour who tweeted “Democracy?” with a link to a Reuters article about the committee vote two weeks ago. Don’t expect her to confirm the robustness of Israel’s democracy now that the situation is more to her liking.
Now we have the Right questioning Israeli democracy, albeit for an entirely different reason.
No one has been banned from running from the Knesset since 1992, when the Kach and Kahane Chai parties were not allowed to run, on grounds of racist incitement. Those parties, like Otzma Yehudit, were inspired by Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose own Kach Party had been banned in 1986.
Ben-Ari’s disqualification, as an individual whose candidacy was upheld by the Central Elections Committee, is wholly unprecedented. It’s unclear why he can’t run now when he could in 2009 – after which he was a member of Knesset for nearly four years – except that he’s posted on Facebook a lot in the interim that helped Meretz gather a “critical mass” of evidence against him. It’s not like Ben-Ari’s ideology has changed, or that it’s any different from that of Ben-Gvir, who is allowed to run.
Taken together with the court allowing Kassif, who is an open anti-Zionist,
and UAL-Balad, whose candidates have repeatedly sided with terrorist groups against Israel (to the point of Balad’s founder having spied for Hezbollah and an ex-MK from the party going to prison for aiding terrorists), to run for the Knesset despite their apparent violation of the conditions stipulated in the law, the outrage has come from even more moderate sectors of the Right, like Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Likud candidate Gideon Sa’ar.
This decision is now serving to fuel the already-existing right-wing resentment of the Supreme Court and judicial activism. The court is taking on new authority and applying it unevenly, they say.
If the Right returns to power in April, expect Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s battle to bring about a more conservative judiciary to continue in full force. Shaked certainly promised as much at a press conference earlier in the day, even before the ruling on Ben-Ari.
In the end, the High Court may have hurt itself more than any one person or party, by applying the law unevenly and more broadly than before.
The big winner of this night is not Meretz, despite its great satisfaction at the ruling, it’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Being that the agreement the Union of Right-Wing Parties made with Otzma ensures that the latter would break off after the election, Otzma is not expected to be in the next government. Therefore, having both Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir on the list would have meant two seats in the opposition.
Now that only number seven on the URP’s list – Ben-Gvir – is from Otzma, there’s potentially one more seat within the coalition for Netanyahu.
Furthermore, this situation plays into the Likud positioning itself as the victim of the elites and Netanyahu positioning himself as the victim of legal authorities.
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