Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit favors barring the head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party from running for Knesset on the grounds of incitement to racism.
The prospects of Michael Ben Ari's party, composed of followers of the later, racist rabbi Meir Kahane, dramatically rose when it merged with the Habayit Hayehudi party in a controversial deal forged several weeks ago with the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But though Mendelblit supported disqualifying Ben Ari, he said that Ben Ari’s party colleague, Itamar Ben-Gvir, should be allowed to run. Otzma is part of a joint ticket known as the Union of Right-Wing Parties.
Mendelblit detailed his views in an opinion submitted to the Central Elections Committee, which is supposed to discuss three requests to disqualify Otzma on Wednesday. He based his opinion against Ben Ari on several statements the latter has made in recent years that Mendelblit said constituted incitement to racism.
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In November 2017, for instance, at an annual memorial for Rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben Ari gave a speech in which he said of Israeli Arabs, “Let’s give them another 100,000 dunams [of land] and affirmative action, maybe they’ll love us. In the end, yes, they’ll love us when we’re slaughtered.”
In that same speech, he said, “Rabbi Kahane taught us that there’s no coexistence with them.” And regarding Israeli Bedouin, he said, “They ought to be dealt with, but in their countries of origin.”
In May 2018, Ben Ari gave another speech in which he said, “The Arabs of Haifa aren’t different in any way from the Arabs of Gaza. How are they different? In that they’re here, enemies from within. They’re waging war against us here, within the state. And this is called – it has a name – it’s called a fifth column. We need to call the dog by its name. They’re our enemies. They want to destroy us. Of course there are loyal Arabs, but you can count them – one percent or less than one percent.”
A disqualification petition against Otzma Yehudit was submitted last week, after it reached the 12 required signatures from members of the Central Elections Committee. The committee is comprised of representatives of all the parties in the outgoing Knesset.
The Meretz party’s representatives filed the petition, and it was quickly joined by representatives of the Labor Party and the Joint List. On Tuesday, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid agreed to support the petition as well, providing the last of the necessary signatures.
“We joined the request due to our commitment to work by any means necessary to prevent the Kahanists from entering the Knesset,” Yesh Atid said in a statement.
Many of Otzma Yehudit’s leading figures were followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was outlawed as a terrorist organization in the 1990s.
Meretz thanked all the parties that supported its petition, saying, “A terrorist organization has no place in the Knesset.”
Otzma Yehudit said in response, “The cat is out of the bag. It turns out that [Benny] Gantz wants to set up a government with the votes of the terrorists’ representatives in the Knesset,” a reference to the Arab parties. “And he’s winking at them by joining the disqualification request. But it won’t help. The unification of the right-wing parties was the surprise of the election.”
In fact, Gantz and his Hosen L’Yisrael party couldn’t join the petition: Since the new party is not in the outgoing Knesset, it has no seats on the Central Elections Committee. But Gantz recently agreed to run on a joint ticket with Yesh Atid, which did support the petition.
The Central Elections Committee is a political organization that makes decisions by majority vote rather than on a legal basis. However, its decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court. In previous years, when the committee voted to disqualify the Balad party, the court overturned its decision.
This week, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American organizations issued a rare criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for persuading Habayit Hayehudi to run on a joint ticket with Otzma Yehudit. The joint run makes it likely that Otzma Yehudit will have representation in the next Knesset, something it could not have achieved running on its own.