Analysis

Israel's Top Court Bans Kahanists but Allows 'Lite' Racists Into the Knesset

Invalidating those on the margins can't address the enormous change in Israeli society and politics from the time there was a united front against Kahane

Otzma Yehudit candidates Bentzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel at a press conference in Jerusalem on Monday, August 26, 2019.
Emil Salman

The Supreme Court decision to disqualify Otzma Yehudit candidates Bentzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel from running for the Knesset was inevitable given the evidence presented to the justices, even if one gives the full possible weight to the constitutional right to vote and be elected. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who supported disqualifying them, agreed.

It is hard to describe racial incitement that’s clearer than that expressed by the two of them. They’ve painted all Arab citizens as enemies, or “suspicious objects” as per Rabbi Meir Kahane’s teachings; called not to have any contact with them and to remove them from the country; said that a pogrom against them would restore Jewish honor; and described the killing of an Arab simply for being an Arab as being forbidden by law but permitted by halakha (Jewish religious law). The High Court’s ruling proves yet again the sheer incompetence of the Central Elections Committee in its role as gatekeeper of democracy, since the committee had allowed the two of them to run.

It’s too bad that Justice Noam Sohlberg, in his minority opinion, felt differently about Marzel. The majority justifiably determined that there’s a limit to the value of regret that’s dredged up before or during a Central Elections Committee hearing. Someone like Marzel who had to express such regret twice and then went right back to his ways, isn’t entitled to be forgiven a third time. Otherwise, regret becomes worthless.

>> Read more: Kahane's Knesset legacy: If there's no Torah, the pigs will take over the countryHow Netanyahu revived Jewish supremacism and paved its way to power | Opinion ■ I shut my Orthodox synagogue's doors to racist Rabbi Meir Kahane. But others let him in | Opinion 

The court also did the obvious and rejected the ridiculous request by Otzma Yehudit and Likud to disqualify the entire Joint List. Accepting it would have turned Israel into a democracy in which there is almost no representation for the Arab minority – a democracy for Jews only, which is no democracy at all.

Now, after the arguments are over, it’s time for the knives to come out. I’m referring to the criticism of the court for not disqualifying No. 8 on the Joint List slate, Balad member Hiba Yazbek, who has expressed support for terrorists.

Balad member Hiba Yazbek at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

These attacks are baseless. The court is being attacked for not making a decision it was not authorized to make. No petition was ever filed with the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Yazbek as required by law, so of course the committee made no decision about her and thus her eligibility or disqualification was not at issue before the court. This is just a continuation of the trend of attacking the Supreme Court because such attacks, irrespective of their factual or legal reality, are politically worthwhile.

Because her case was not adjudicated, it’s not right to comment on her status from a legal perspective. But one cannot just leave it without any comment at all. One would have to be an extreme fool and lacking moral sensitivity to call a despicable murderer like Samir Kuntar a martyr. This is no different from those who glorify another abominable murderer, Baruch Goldstein, and hang his picture on the wall of their home (although by law that is not grounds for disqualification, since the problematic support for the armed struggle of a terror group does not apply to Jewish terror).

There seems to be no limit to the mischief. The court had determined that some of the clauses in Otzma Yehudit’s platform were suggestive of racism, and that its platform raises doubts about the party’s commitment to democratic values. Three of its candidates have been disqualified (including Michael Ben-Ari, who was disqualified before April’s election), and the whole list was only a hairsbreadth from being invalidated.

A portrait of late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane inside a disputed building in the West Bank town of Hebron, November 2008.
AP

Nevertheless, Otzma Yehudit pretends to be the protector of Israeli democracy. Until the political system realizes that Arab citizens of Israel and their representatives cannot be expected to adopt Zionism, and that the Arab minority is in a complex and difficult situation in which their country is at war with their people, there will be many more requests to disqualify Arab lists and candidates. The High Court will have to stand in the breach and save Israeli democracy from itself.

Let’s not deceive ourselves. The necessary disqualification of the Kahanists and racists gives decent citizens a good feeling. But this, in and of itself, doesn’t effectively confront racism. The court’s approach still allows racists who are less outspoken to serve in the Knesset. Invalidating the extreme racist margins cannot address the enormous change that has occurred in Israeli society and politics from the time there was a united political front against Kahane to our day, when Otzma Yehudit is considered a legitimate party.

As long as the dominant political forces support discrimination against Arabs in settlement and housing; as long as they continuously question the legitimacy of Arab politics and stand behind the nation-state law, racism will raise its head. As long as Israeli society accepts the false narrative that all Palestinians are the state’s eternal enemies, there is no solution.