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)
A letter from the US State Department law affirming that a yeshiva that Otzma Yehudit candidate former MK Michael Ben-Ari founded is not a terrorist organization is expected to play a role in their response to a petition to the Supreme Court calling to ban them.
The Central Elections Committee voted not to ban Otzma from running in the April 9 election, following a petition by Meretz, Labor MK Stav Shaffir and the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), but they appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which will have the final say on the matter.
One of the arguments against the candidates is that they were the founders of the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea, which Shaffir and the IRAC said is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US.
A 2001 letter from the US State Department, however, says otherwise. The letter, first reported on Channel 13 News, is in response to the yeshiva’s contesting of a plan to re-designate it as an alias of Kahane Chai, a group that broke off from Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party, and is considered a terrorist group in the US.
Both groups are designated as terrorist groups in Israel, as well, and were banned from running from the Knesset in Israel on grounds of racist incitement.
“We have determined that the anticipated re-designation of the ‘Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea’ relates to another organization allegedly unaffiliated with the group you represent. Accordingly, by this letter, please be advised the anticipated re-designation of that organization will have no legal effect on you or your group,” then-ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism Francis X. Taylor wrote.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an attorney and a candidate for the party, says this will be one of the many pieces of evidence they plan to provide to show that “the Reform Movement lied to the committee.”
“They brought false quotes and data and asked the committee to consider them,” Ben-Gvir said. “Quote after quote that they brought were either lies or incorrect... They’re submitting evidence that can’t be accepted from the court. They had partial transcripts taken out of context. This is fraud before the committee and the court.”
Israel Reform Movement Executive Director Gilad Kariv said they had argued the yeshiva was considered a terrorist organization at a certain point in time.
“We are examining this and if necessary, we will fix it in the appeal,” Kariv said. “Either way, the demand to disqualify [Ben-Ari] does not rely on that, but on dozens of comments in his own voice inciting to racism.”
Before Wednesday’s Central Elections Committee meeting, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit released his opinion that Ben-Ari should be disqualified but not Ben-Gvir.
Mandelblit based his decision on several video clips found on the Otzma Facebook page, including the following from May 2018: “The Arabs in Haifa are in no way different from the Arabs in Gaza.... They are enemies from the inside.... They are fighting a war against us in the state; this thing has a name, it’s called a ‘fifth column’.... They want to destroy us. Of course, there are loyal Arabs, but they amount to 1% or less.... There is no coexistence with them.”
Ben-Gvir argued that the quotes are taken out of context and Kahane’s quotes are irrelevant.
“Respond to the views of Ben-Gvir and Ben-Ari, not to Rabbi Kahane,” Ben-Gvir said, adding that he never even met Kahane. In the words of the famous bumper sticker, Ben-Gvir said “Kahane was right,” but that in some cases he was wrong.
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