Israeli Arab Slate, Far-left Candidate Banned From Election Hours After Kahanist Leader Allowed to Run

Arab political sources say the move is evidence of racism and the delegitimization of Arab society in Israel, accusing Netanyahu’s Likud party of anti-Arab incitement

Dr. Ofer Cassif (left) speaks alongside Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh in Shfaram, Israel, February 1, 2019.
Rami Shllush

The Central Election Committee disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of politicial alliance Hadash-Ta'al, from running in the election on Wednesday, opposing the opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the Kahanist, far-right Otzma Yehudit party had petitioned against both lists. The committee approved Ben Ari to run in the election earlier Wednesday.

The decisions will be referred to the Supreme Court on Sunday for approval. A ban against a party slate may be appealed in the Supreme Court, which holds a special “election appeals” process, while a ban on an individual candidate automatically requires approval by the Supreme Court if it is to take effect. 

>> Read more: The Knesset candidate who says Zionism encourages anti-Semitism and calls Netanyahu 'arch-murderer'

Arab political sources described the disqualification of the Balad-United Arab List slate as evidence of racism and the delegitimization of Arab society in Israel and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party of anti-Arab incitement.

MK David Bitan petitioned on behalf of Likud against Balad-United Arab List, and Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman petitioned against Cassif. Petitioners claimed both lists and Cassif supported terror and ruled out Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state. Mendelblit said he opposed all the petitions.

Ben-Gvir presented the committee with findings he claimed should disqualify the Hadash-Ta'al slate. He mentioned a call from Ta'al chairman Ahmed Tibi to annul the Declaration of Independence, and quoted a Facebook post by Ayman Odeh, the head of Hadash.

In the post, written following a meeting with Fatah member Marwan Barghouti at an Israeli prison, Odeh compared Barghouti to Nelson Mandela. "The meeting was moving, as well as speaking to a leader who shares my political stances." Ben-Gvir noted Odeh defined Ahed Tamimi as an "excellent girl," and said she showed "legitimate resistance." Tamimi, a Palestinian teenage girl, served time in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier in 2018.

Cassif was accused of equating Israel and the Israel Defense Forces with the Nazi regime, and it was noted that he called to fight "Judeo-Nazism," expressed support for changing the anthem, and called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked "Neo-Nazi scum." He did not attend the session, but was called after committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer insisted on his presence.

"I come from an academic background, and my area of expertise is among other things the subject of Fascism, Nazis and nationalism in general," said Cassif, explaining his comments. "When I speak to a friend or write a post as a private person, I use metaphors. When I used the aforementioned terms – they were metaphors."

In an interview last month, Cassif said Israel conducts a "creeping genocide" against the Palestinian people.

The top candidate on the slate, Mansour Abbas, said he had expected that most of the representatives of the Zionist parties on the election committee would support the move to disqualify the slate, but added: “We are a democratic Arab list that is seeking to represent Arab society with dignity and responsibility.”

Commenting on Benny Gantz, the leader of Kahol Lavan, which is ahead of Likud in recent polls, Abbas said: “There’s no difference between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benjamin Gantz.”

Mtanes Shehadeh, who is No. 2 on the Balad-United Arab list slate said the decision to disqualify his slate was expected because he said the Central Election Committee has a right-wing majority and “is also controlled by a fascist, right-wing ideology.”

His Balad faction, Shehadeh said, “presents a challenge to democracy in Israel” and challenges what he called “the right-wing regime that is controlling the country.”

Sources from the Balad-United Arab list slate said there is in an urgent need to strip the Central Election Committee of the authority to disqualify candidates and parties from running in elections. The considerations that go into the decision are purely political, the sources said.

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said the decision to disqualify the slate sends a “hostile message to the Arab public” in the country. “We will petition the High Court of Justice against the decision and in any event, we will not change our position, even if we are disqualified.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Central Elections Committee approved Ben Ari, the chairman of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, to run for the Knesset. 

Meretz, Stav Shaffir (Labor) and the Reform Movement, who filed the petition to the Central Elections Committee to ban Ben Ari from running for Knesset, all said they would file a petition with the High Court of Justice against the committee’s decision.

Prior to deliberations, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit submitted his opinion to the comittee, stating he was in favor of disqualifying Ben Ari from running for Knesset on the grounds of incitement to racism.

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 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.”