High Court green lights controversial Labor candidate to run

Ibitsam Mara’ana accused IDF soldiers of murdering a Palestinian child in the past.

LABOR PARTY leader Merav Michaeli (center) attends a first meeting of the party with its newly-elected members, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
LABOR PARTY leader Merav Michaeli (center) attends a first meeting of the party with its newly-elected members, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
An expanded nine-member panel of the High Court of Justice on Sunday green-lighted a controversial Labor Party candidate to run in the March 23 election, overruling the Central Elections Committee.
The Central Elections Committee voted on February 17 to accept petitions by the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party to disqualify the Labor Party’s seventh candidate, btisam Mara’ana-Menuchin, for prior statements against the State of Israel and the IDF. Some of the statements included were dated from 2008.
The High Court vote was 8-1 with only Justice David Mintz voting to disqualify Mara’ana-Menuchin.
Mara’ana-Menuchin said she was happy about the decision and could not wait to start working for “democracy, women, Jewish-Arab partnership and human rights.”
The Labor Party issued a statement praising the decision.
“Mara’ana[-Menuchin] expressed regret for what she wrote more than a decade ago,” a Labor representative said. “We see this episode as over.”
Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, who submitted the proposal to disqualify Mara’ana-Menuchin, said he was not surprised by the decision.
“Once again the High Court has proven that it is not capable of disqualifying supporters of terrorism,” he said.
The High Court said Mara’ana-Menuchin’s prior statements were “the most outrageous kind,” but they fell short of meeting “the critical mass” requirement for concretely undermining Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state.
Further, the justices said although some of her statements could be construed as supporting action against the State of Israel, she had disowned those statements and apologized.
In at least one prior decision regarding right-wing activist Baruch Marzel, they had cleared him to run when he made a similar apology for statements he made inciting racism against Arabs, they said.
Mintz said Mara’ana-Menuchin’s prior statements were unforgivable and worthy of disqualification.
Last week, the High Court heard arguments about the issue with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and others pressing Mara’ana-Menuchin that she appeared to call at least metaphorically for destroying Zichron Ya’acov in 2008.
In response, Mara’ana-Menuchin said: “I am sorry that you judges are stuck spending time on this, when there are for sure more important things to deal with than me… I completely and unequivocally apologize for anything that could have been understood as racist or incitement… I did not call to destroy” Zichron Ya’acov.
Mara’ana-Menuchin did not try to explain why she made certain comments about Zichron Ya’acov; rather, she stuck to a strategy of repeated apologies and assurance that she supported the State of Israel and coexistence.
Last week, Ben-Gvir said: “If we switched Dr. [Michael] Ben-Ari, [Baruch] Marzel or [Benji] Gopstein for Mara’ana-Menuchin, there would be no chance” that the High Court would let her run.
There is a double standard to look the other way when someone on the Left like Mara’ana-Menuchin “negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said. The court has also cleared the way for Ben-Gvir to run in the past despite his own controversial statements.
The original Central Elections Commission decision to disqualify Mara’ana-Menuchin was by a 16-15 vote with two abstentions.
The vote came against the guidance of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who said however objectionable Mara’ana-Menuchin’s past statements may have been, they did not meet the high “critical mass” standard for disqualification.
Mara’ana-Menuchin’s main arguments seems to have been that she made many statements at a different stage of her life when she was to the left of Meretz, but now she is a centrist comfortable with Labor, married to a Jewish man and with a mixed Arab-Jewish child.
The votes for disqualifying her came from the Likud, Shas, Yamina, Bayit Yehudi, the National Union and Gesher.
Blue and White, Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz and the Arabs voted against the move.
Yisrael Beytenu and Derech Eretz did not participate in the vote. UTJ abstained.
Mara’ana-Menuchin has in the past made extreme statements besides the Zichron Ya’acov issue, including calling Gaza “a ghetto under cruel occupation” on social media. She left the 12th slot on the Meretz list in 2009 before the election to protest the party’s support for Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.
Mara’ana-Menuchin had boasted about the joys of continuing to drive during the sirens on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Less than two months ago, she called the IDF “the occupation army” and accused its soldiers of murdering a Palestinian child. In a social-media post, she called Israel “ugly.”
Besides petitioning against Mara’ana-Menuchin, Otzma Yehudit petitioned against the Joint List and Ra’am (United Arab List). Those petitions fell by a vote of 15-3 because Likud representatives did not participate.
The Likud said its representatives did not vote because Arab citizens realize the Joint List no longer represents them.
The committee is made up of representatives of factions in the outgoing Knesset.