High Court to decide legality of disqualifying Labor candidate

The original central election commission decision to disqualify Mara’ana came by a 16-15 vote with two abstentions.

Ibtisam Mara'ana (photo credit: ACCESOMAT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Ibtisam Mara'ana
(photo credit: ACCESOMAT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
An expanded nine-member panel of the High Court of Justice on Wednesday heard arguments about whether a controversial Labor Party candidate could be disqualified from running in the March 23 election.
On February 17, the Central Elections Committee voted to accept petitions by the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party to disqualify the Labor Party’s seventh candidate, Ibtisam Mara’ana.
Expectations are that the High Court panel, presided over by High Court President Esther Hayut, will eventually toss the committee decision and clear the way for Mara’ana to run.
But along the way the justices made her sweat on Wednesday.
Pressed by Hayut and others that she appeared to call at least metaphorically for destroying Zichron Ya’acov in 2008, Mara’ana replied, “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 did not try to explain why she made certain comments about Zichron Ya’acov, but rather stuck to a strategy of repeated apologies and assurance that she supported the State of Israel and coexistence.
It was unclear when exactly the High Court would rule, but by Sunday it must issue a decision according to the election laws and deadlines.
Oztma Yehudit candidate for Knesset Itamar Ben Gvir said, “if we switched Dr. [Michael] Ben Ari, [Baruch] Marzel or [Benji} Gopstein for Mara’ana – there would be no chance,” that the High Court would let her run.
Ben Gvir said there is a double standard to look the other way when someone on the Left like Mara’ana “negate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” though the court has also cleared the way for Ben Gvir himself to run in the past despite his own controversial statements.
The original central election commission decision to disqualify Mara’ana came by a 16-15 vote with two abstentions.
This vote came against the guidance of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit who said that however objectionable Mara’ana’s past statements may have been, they did not meet the high “critical mass” standard for disqualification.
Mara’ana’s main arguments seem to have been that she made many statements at a different stage of her life where she was to the Left of Meretz, but that now she is a centrist comfortable with Labor, married to a Jewish man 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.
Ben-Gvir, who proposed the petition, argued not only for preventing Mara’ana from running but also explained why, if she were Jewish and spoke against Arabs as she did against Jews, she would have been arrested.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli said the reasons for disqualifying Mara’ana were ridiculous.
“Ibtisam is a partner in building a future together in the State of Israel,” Michaeli said. “We will not let violent people dictate their racist worldview to the country.
Mara’ana 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.
She has boasted about the joys of continuing to drive during the sirens on Holocaust Memorial Day. Less than two months ago, Mara’ana 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, Otzma Yehudit petitioned against the Joint List and Ra’am (United Arab List). Those petitions fell by a vote of 15 to three 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.

Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.