The High Court of Justice is hearing multiple petitions on Thursday relating to the eligibility of the Balad-United Arab List Party and of candidates from the Otzma Yehudit extreme-right party for the April 9 election.
The Central Elections Committee last week disqualified Balad-UAL, while it gave a green light to Otzma.
In contrast, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit had suggested disqualifying Michael Ben Ari of Otzma for extreme racism and giving the green light to Balad-UAL.
Israeli-Arab Justice George Kara asked Ben Ari and his lawyer Yitzhak Baum, "who decides about loyalty? Does Ben Ari decide?" He also asked what Ben Ari's criteria were for deciding whether he thought Arabs with Israeli citizenship were loyal to the state or whether he would brand them as traitors, as he has in some public statements.
Baum responded that Ben Ari would address this question to the voters and that it is an issue being debated in the political sphere.
Mandelblit said that Balad-UAL’s statements and activities were highly troubling, but did not reach a critical mass for disqualification.
In contrast, he said that Ben Ari’s main purpose and message in running was itself racism against Arabs
, which means that he should be disqualified.
Ben Ari has pushed back that he is not a racist and that comments he has made against Arabs are directed against violent Arabs or terrorists.
Mandelblit said that Ben Ari’s comments were against all Arabs and that he has also taken actions against Arabs, all of which is significant evidence for disqualification.
Balad or its members have been disqualified by the committee in all recent elections and then reinstated each time by the High Court.
On Wednesday, the court heard multiple petitions to disqualify the Hadash-Ta'al Israeli-Arab parties and Hadash's Knesset candidate Ofer Kassif.
During the hearing, National Union party leader Betzalel Smotrich got into a brief but unusual verbal spat with High Court President Esther Hayut.
After Smotrich interjected with comments about the hearing in a voice loud enough for those in the court to hear, Hayut insisted that he refrain from speaking like the rest of the non-lawyer audience in attendance.
Smotrich responded by yelling at Hayut that she needed to respect him as an MK and needed to stop disrespecting the Knesset.
Hayut responded that while it might be custom for people to interrupt each other and call out in the Knesset, in the High Court this was not allowed and only the lawyers for the various parties were allowed to speak.
Generally, the only time that non-lawyers can speak are when defendants who have been convicted can make a statement expressing regret as part of their sentencing hearing.
The purpose of politics-blind rule that only lawyers speak is to maintain order and decorum.
Following the conclusion of the hearing there was yelling and pushing outside the court by activists supporting the opposing sides.
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