The Supreme Court disqualified on Sunday the candidacy of Right wing Otzma Yehudit candidate Dr. Michael Ben-Ari from running in the April elections and approved the candidacy of a controversial Arab party, overturning March 6 decisions by the Knesset’s election board. The court also approved the candidacy of Professor Ofer Cassif, a far-Left Hadash candidate who has made controversial comments in the past.
A majority of eight to one judges ruled to disqualify Ben-Ari, Justice Noam Solberg was the sole dissenter. Justice David Mintz was the sole dissenter in approving the candidacy of Cassif and the Balad Party as a whole. The court also declined to disqualify Itamar Ben-Gvir, another candidate of the Otzma Yehudit list.
Ben-Ari reacted to the ruling by saying: “There is a judicial junta trying to take over our lives. This is not democracy.”
The United Right Party called the ruling absurd, predictable and a travesty and vowed to put an end to what they called judicial overreach. “The people, not the judges should be choosing the candidates,” they said.
Ofer Cassif (Hadash) thanked the court for their ruling: “The attempt to ban me and the Arab Balad Party stems from the hate and racism of the radical Right led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. I, along with my partners in Hadash will continue to unrelentingly combat the occupation and work for peace and justice and against racism and for equality. I am sure we will triumph.”
In a panel of nine judges, the court examined the candidacy of Ben-Ari on Thursday. Justice Yitzhak Amit asked then: “According to the ideology of Dr. Ben-Ari, those who identifies with the nationalist Arab movement are enemies. And at least 99% of Israeli Arabs identify with the movement. is he against the entire Arab population?”
Ben-Ari’s attorney thought to explain to the court that his client has no problem with Arabs who see Israel as the state of the Jewish people and that those who are not loyal to the state should not be citizens of the state. Justice Hendel then asked whether one who does not break the law is considered loyal.
The rulings were widely expected and unlikely to shake Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to form a rightist coalition that might secure him a record fifth term.
The Central Elections Committee, a monitoring body made up of delegates of parties in the current Knesset, last month approved Ben-Ari's candidacy while disqualifying Raam-Balad, a joint party list representing some of Israel's 20 percent Arab minority.
Israel has in the past prosecuted two Balad figures for contacts with Palestinian militants and accused former party leader Azmi Bishara of helping Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war.
The court voided the ban on Raam-Balad, a mix of Islamists and Arab nationalists which describes itself as a “democratic movement.”
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said in a statement that the court's blocking of Ben-Ari "while declaring terror-backing parties kosher is a crass and misguided interference in the heart of Israeli democracy".
Netanyahu's bid for reelection has been challenged by a centrist newcomer, former IDF chief Benny Gantz. Their escalating exchanges of allegations have included corruption, bigotry, forsaking national security and abetting Israel's foes.
The premier's partnership with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) also drew rare censure from the U.S. pro-Israel lobby and normally staunch Netanyahu backer AIPAC, which branded the party "racist and reprehensible".
A poll aired by public broadcaster Kan on Sunday put Likud narrowly in the lead to form the next coalition government with a projected 31 of parliament's 120 seats against 30 for Gantz's Blue and White party.