Did the Supreme Court just re-elect Netanyahu? - Analysis

They all knew the real decisions about what parties and candidates could run in the September 17 election would be made across the street at the Supreme Court.

August 27, 2019 03:34
3 minute read.
Did the Supreme Court just re-elect Netanyahu? - Analysis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on the fateful night of May 29, when the Knesset dissolved itself and set September 17 as the date for new elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The representatives of the political parties on the Central Elections Committee conducted a stormy debate about which parties and candidates to disqualify at the Knesset for 12 hours.

They shouted at each other and tried various gimmicks. But they all knew it was a farce.

They all knew the real decisions about which parties and candidates could run in the September 17 election would be made across the street at the Supreme Court.

The courts decided for decades not to interfere in the decisions of the parties. This was true regarding the Central Elections Committee’s decisions, and attentive readers will notice that whenever internal decisions of parties are appealed to external courts, they almost never decide to take action.

This started changing ahead of the April election, when the Supreme Court disqualified former MK Michael Ben-Ari of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party. The Court continued the trend by disqualifying Otzma candidates Baruch Marze and Bentzi Gopstein on Sunday night.

The main argument used by those who criticized the decision was that it was unfair, because extremists on the other side were not disqualified at the same time. But that criticism was technically incorrect.

The judges permitted Otzma Yehudit to run and also permitted the Joint List. They disqualified two Otzma candidates but there were no requests to disqualify individual Joint List candidates.

Perhaps had there been an appeal against MK Heba Yazbak, who praised baby-killer Samir Kuntar on Facebook, the judges could have had an opportunity to balance their decision. They did have that opportunity ahead of the April election, but the candidate appealed was MK Ofer Cassif, who was hard to prove as a terrorism sympathizer.

A better argument can be made that the courts should not interfere at all, except in very extreme cases. Sunday’s decision could potentially have a significant impact on the September 17 election.

Otzma Yehudit was only a couple tenths of a percentage point below the electoral threshold before the Supreme Court’s decision. All Otzma needed was 20,000 to 30,000 right-wingers to be angry enough and switch their allegiance from Likud or Yamina to make it into the Knesset.

If that happens, the impact will be that instead of having Marzel and Gopstein – two extremists who are 60 and almost 50 – outside the Knesset due to the threshold, Otzma will enter the parliament with two younger extremists who moved up the list.

Yitzhak Wasserlauf, 26, is one of the leaders of the efforts to expel African migrant workers from Tel Aviv. He moved up from fourth to third, due to Marzel’s disqualification.

Rabbi Meir David Kuperschmidt, 27, of Kiryat Arba, moved up from sixth to fourth without Marzel and Gopstein, and is now very close to becoming an MK. His class on YouTube about what would happen if the Temple Mount was without Arabs would probably not impress the judges very much.

The decision could also have an indirect but much more serious impact on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu achieves 61 MKs on the Right and is able to form the next government. Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir said Netanyahu cannot get 61 without his party, which the court strengthened.

The court could have actually helped Likud even more had it disqualified Otzma as a whole and given right-wing voters one fewer choice, especially one that is still unlikely to cross the threshold.

But it would be pretty ironic if the very Supreme Court, whose powers Netanyahu has been trying to curtail, kept him in power just by going further than it did in the past in exercising its authority.

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