Fears of Election Day riots in Umm al-Fahm are growing: Attorney General Menachem Mazuz sent and emergency appeal to the Central Elections Committee Friday, asking it exercise its authority and disqualify extreme right-wing activist Baruch Marzel from heading the ballot committee in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
Mazuz's appeal to the committee reportedly followed security concerns expressed by both Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin and Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen.
Mazuz cited the concerns, saying that the move would cause "a near-certain disruption of public order and may infringe on both public safety and the purity of elections on the city."
Justice Eliezer Rivlin, head of the Central Elections Committee informed Mazuz that his petition was premature, as "the election committee's authority is limited to the eve of the elections and Election Day," and that in any case the committee did not have the authority to "intervene in the identities of the various ballot committee chairs".
He added that according to police predictions, Marzel's very presence in the Arab village would be enough to set off a riot, in which case there was no significance to the office he had been given.
"Each faction is permitted to send an observer… without announcing his identity ahead of time, so those who ask to remove a chairman's name from one ballot committee may find him present at a different problematic ballot box without prior warning," Rivlin wrote in his letter to Mazuz.
He said it was the authorities' job to keep the peace regardless of those present at the ballot boxes. Therefore, he told the attorney general, if he had evidence of a brewing riot the State should take the necessary measures to prevent it.
"I expect you to fulfill your office and appeal to those authorities – the police and Shin Bet – in order to demand they take responsibility. A petition of any sort does not remove the responsibility or duty from the authorities," Rivlin wrote.
Election Act abused?Last week, the Central Elections Committee announced Marzel would be chairing the Haifa District's city ballot, on behalf of the right-wing Moledet Party; but Shin Bet and police intelligence indicated that a riot is likely to sweep through the city should he be allowed to do so.
Police Commissioner Cohen alerted Mazuz to the possibility that a brutal physical clash may erupt between Marzel's supporters and the townspeople, saying his intelligence warned of "a clash which poses a substantial threat to human life and may even exceed Umm al-Fahm itself and boil over into Wadi Ara and the (Arab) sector."
The attorney general asked Moledet to name a different representative for the ballot committee, saying that the party abused its right to elect a delegate in order to observe the integrity of the voting process. "There is a sense… that choosing Mr. Marzel was meant as a provocation aimed against the premise of the Elections Act, against the principles of democracy in general and against the principle of taking part in the voting process in particular.
"It is well known that Mr. Marzel was an active member of the Kach Party, which was deemed by the government as a terror group," added Mazuz, concluding that it was his belief that this was a case where the Central Election Committee must use its authority to disqualify an appointment.
The radical right-wing Kach Party was founded in the 1970's by Orthodox American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane. Though it won one Knesset seat in 1984, its extremist ideology, which advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian territories, was eventually labeled racist; in 1994 it was outlawed completely.
"Instead of dealing with (ballot) forgeries in the Arab sector and enforcing the law, Mazuz is trying to circumvent it. Mazuz doesn’t give a damn about the rule of law," he said.
Sharon Roffe-Ofir and Efrat Weiss contributed to this report