The lawyer for Dr. Ofer Kassif of the Israeli-Arab Hadash Party, told the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that comments Kassif made about attacks on IDF soldiers were philosophical and not support for terrorism.
Kassif’s lawyer, Adalah director Hassan Jabareen, was trying to convince the maximum nine justice panel of the High Court, reserved for matters of major importance, to reinstate his client as eligible to run for the Knesset after the Central Elections Committee disqualified him last week for supporting armed conflict with Israel.
The committee disqualified Kassif, Hadash’s only Jewish candidate, from running for Knesset, while permitting extreme right Otzma Yehudit Party activist Michael Ben-Ari and the Hadash (which is communist)-Ta’al parties to run.
The committee’s decision ignored the recommendation of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that Kassif be allowed to run because his anti-Israel statements were objectionable but not disqualifying, while he had recommended disqualifying Ben-Ari due to incitement and racism.
Previously, Adalah filed a petition to the High Court to reinstate Kassif, and on Tuesday it filed a petition declaring the committee’s decisions to be unconstitutional and seeking to remove the committee’s authority to rule on such issues.
Also on Tuesday, Otzma filed a petition to disqualify the Hadash-Ta’al parties and Meretz filed a petition late Tuesday to disqualify Ben-Ari.
At the Wednesday High |Court hearing, a lawyer for Yisrael Beytenu, who defended disqualifying Kassif, attacked Kassif for a variety of statements.
The Yisrael Beytenu lawyer said Kassif’s statements calling the State of Israel, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and others "Nazis" and "neo-Nazis" crossed the line for someone running for the Knesset.
He also said Kassif’s statements seeming to praise those who attack IDF soldiers as heroes showed his support for armed conflict against Israel and justified disqualifying his candidacy.
Justices Noam Sohlberg, David Mintz and Neal Hendel all hit Jabareen with hard questions about Kassif’s statements, especially about attacking IDF soldiers.
Jabareen explained that Kassif was explaining the academic debate about whether attacking soldiers is terrorism or part of armed conflict between two warring sides, but that on a personal level, Kassif opposes all violence.
Hendel said to Jabareen that he was asking readers and the court to do a schizophrenic analysis to understand Kassif’s statements. He said it was unrealistic to expect average readers to read Kassif’s journal articles so that they would understand he does not support armed conflict.
Moreover, Jabareen said that Kassif must be allowed to run to support democratic dialogue and free speech and reject fascist tendencies to repress Israeli-Arab MK's criticism of Israeli policies, which creates injustice toward Palestinians.
Outside the courtroom, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman said that the High Court should up hold the committee’s disqualification of Kassif because of the Knesset candidate’s comments that Jews visiting the Temple Mount were a cancer.
At the same hearing, Justices Uzi Vogelman and Menachem Mazuz pressed the Yisrael Beytenu lawyer that he had no relevant evidence to disqualify Kassif under the law.
They said that he was rehashing the history of the High Court denying attempts by the committee to disqualify Israeli Arabs, but was not adding any real legal arguments.
High Court President Esther Hayut appeared to give both sides trouble, though eventually she seemed interested in helping Jabareen find the right legal argument for his side.
In a separate hearing later on Wednesday, the lawyer for a group of right-wing political officials told the High Court that comments made by Knesset MKs of the Israeli-Arab Hadash-Ta’al parties should lead to their disqualification due to allegedly supporting terror.
Lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir said that Hadash party leader Ayman Oudeh would not condemn bombing IDF soldiers in an interview with Israel Radio.
Because of these and other statements by Hadash-Ta’al MKs which he said support armed conflict against Israel and deny the country’s Jewishness, Ben Gvir said that the High Court should override the Central Election Committee and disqualify the parties from running for the Knesset.
Ben Gvir had an uphill battle, with Jabareen saying that the appeal to the High Court to disqualify Hadash-Ta’al had been filed in bad faith.
Jabareen said that ben Gvir had even privately admitted this to him.
The Adalah lawyer said that it was highly irregular for a minority of committee officials to ask the High Court to disqualify a candidate if the committee accepted the person.
Ben Gvir recounted that Oudeh was asked on Israel Radio by Kalman Liberman whether using a bomb against IDF soldiers was legitimate and that Oudeh replied he does not choose what is legitimate and what isn’t. Rather, Ben Gvir said that Oudeh said “the Palestinian nation decides what is fitting,” and that he supported Palestinian “resistance” against Israel’s occupation.
Hayut pressed Jabareen that while he could make fancy interpretations of what Oudeh had said that Ben Gvir’s reading of Oudeh seemed accurate.
She challenged Jabareen to give a different interpretation.
Jabareen responded that this was not the correct legal test.
Rather, he said that as long as a statement could be interpreted in two different directions, that it could not be evidence to disqualify a candidate from running in elections.
Further, he said that to disqualify an entire list from running for elections, there needed to be evidence of concrete actions – possibly criminal investigations of multiple candidates.
In contrast, he said that in Ben Gvir’s section of proof of concrete actions by Hadash-Ta’al which warranted disqualifications, there were no actions, only a list of more statements.
Ben Gvir responded that these parties have supported killing IDF soldiers and settlers.
He added, “allowing these people to run for Knesset puts Israeli democracy in danger.”
The High Court is expected to render its decisions within days since the April 9 election is just around the corner.
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