The High Court of Justice on Thursday heard petitions both to reinstate and disqualify Idit Silman and Amichai Chikli from running with the Likud in the upcoming election following their jumping ship from Yamina.
On September 28, Central Elections Committee (CEC) head Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Amit ruled that Yamina MK Silman was permitted to run with the Likud. He also determined that Chikli could not.
What were the petitions?
There were two petitions against Silman, one by Meretz MK Gaby Lasky seeking to disqualify her as an MK who had seceded from her party and therefore could not join another existing one in the next Knesset. The second was filed by the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel (MQGI), which wanted to disqualify her for an alleged criminal violation of accepting a promise to join a new party in exchange for toppling her old party and coalition.
The High Court criticized Lasky’s lawyer Ori Haberman, saying he had no case because, unlike Chikli, Yamina itself never declared Silman as a secessionist.
In response, Haberman quoted Amit, who had expressed mixed feelings about letting Silman run, saying that if the average voter was asked if she had seceded from Yamina after her public message that she had left the coalition, most voters would say that she had.
In that light, Haberman said, if it was clear to everyone that Silman had left Yamina, the court should not neglect to enforce the law against her just because the party had failed to fully sanction her as much as it could have.
Yamina was not functioning as a party, Haberman said, adding that this should not save Silman from breaking the rules.
Nevertheless, the justices were clear that these were political questions that are not within the court’s purview.
Based on framing Silman’s issue as political and not legal, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut strongly recommended to Haberman to withdraw the petition, which he did several hours later.
But MQGI lawyer Eliezer Shraga said Silman’s accepting a promise for a spot on the Likud list was a “bribe” and would undermine Israel’s entire democratic system of government.
If the court did not act, it would effectively kill the law that was passed to stop exactly such bribery schemes for switching political parties, he said.
Multiple justices noted that Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara could probe Silman and that, in terms of ethics, they had written decisions condemning such political deals.
Shraga responded that Baharav-Miara had failed to move forward against Silman for around half a year and that all of the court’s fancy language of condemnation was useless if people such as Silman could get away with blatantly violating the law.
Despite Shraga’s dramatic statements, the justices seemed to believe that Baharav-Miara had to decide the issue and that they had no basis to disqualify Silman before it was even proven whether she had violated any laws.
Regarding Chikli, Likud lawyer Michael Ravilo started by apologizing on behalf of any members of the Likud who had publicly attacked Amit. Hayut responded, “That is the right thing, and let Chikli himself, who is here, also apologize.”
Ravilo said Chikli was just there as a spectator; Chikli did not apologize until much later.
The justices needed to be extremely careful about disqualifying someone who the voters wanted to be able to vote for, he said.
However, Justice Daphna Barak-Erez responded that Ravilo was mixing and matching issues.
The issue Ravilo was referring to was an ideological one, whereas Chikli was nixed for a technical reason related to how the competing Knesset political parties are supposed to act with each other, she said.
Moreover, Ravilo said Amit lacked jurisdiction to decide Chikli’s issue and that it should have been decided by members of the CEC.
Hayut responded that Ravilo failed to raise this issue before Amit. Much of the rest of the debate revolved around whether Chikli's delay in appealing warranted Yamina's sanctioning him.
Chikli’s candidacy was barred after Lasky petitioned the committee, claiming that he did not resign early enough to be allowed to run on a different list than the one he was on for the previous Knesset.
The law obligating such a resignation exists to block a scenario in which an MK votes against his party’s agenda in exchange for receiving a reserved spot in a different party in the following election. By resigning immediately, the “deserter” indicates that his choice to go against his party was purely ideologically based.
Chikli was designated a “deserter” on April 25; on June 13, he appealed the decision to the Jerusalem District Court.
The big twist here was that on July 10, the court ruled that if he resigned within the next four days, it would count as an “immediate” resignation.
The court stressed, however, that the final decision on whether Chikli would be able to run on the Likud list would be up to the CEC head.
Even though Chikli handed in his resignation two days later based on the agreement with the district court, Amit’s decision effectively overturned the court’s ruling.
Amit explained in the ruling that this was because Chikli only appealed his designation as a deserter nearly 50 days after the fact, and his conduct during that period and since the formation of the government showed that he had clearly broken ideologically with his party and thus had ample time to step down as required by law.
Chikli was chosen as the first pick out of the five awarded to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and was placed in the No. 14 spot.
The nine-justice panel is expected to issue its decision at the latest by Sunday.
Eliav Breuer contributed to this story.