Israel's Top Court Bars Leaders of Kahanist Party From Running for Knesset

Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein of the Otzma Yehudit party are followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose vitriolic racism against Arabs got his Kach party banned from running in the 1988 election

Leaders of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party: Michal Ben Ari (banned from running in the elections for racist incitement), Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzvi Gopstein. Bat Yam, April 4, 2019
David Bachar

Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Sunday evening that Otzma Yehudit party members Bentzi Gupstein and Baruch Marzel cannot run in the Knesset election. 

Judges also decided that the Joint List of Arab parties and the Otzma Yehudit party – excluding its two leaders who were barred – may be permitted to contend in the general election. 

>> Read more: Why racist rabbi Meir Kahane is roiling Israeli politics years after his death | Explained

Last week, the Central Election Committee denied a petition to bar the party from running in the election. However, the final decision had to be made by the courts. 

Marzel is second on the Otzma roster and Gopstein is fifth. In any case, polls indicate that the party won't pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, keeping it out of the Knesset. Gopstein also heads the Lahava organization, which aspires to prevent assimilation between Arabs and Jews and calls on Israelis not to employ Arabs.

Both Marzel and Gopstein are former disciples and political descendants of Meir Kahane – the infamous American-rabbi-turned-Knesset-member whose vitriolic racism against Arabs got his Kach party banned from running in the 1988 election. Two years later, he was assassinated in a Manhattan hotel. 

The ultra-nationalist and anti-Arab party opposes any form of a Palestinian state and any relationship or negotiation with the Palestinian Authority, while calling for outright annexation of the entire West Bank and cancellation of the Oslo Accords. It also calls for Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, aspires to “a Jewish majority and a loyal civilian population through emigration,” and says Israel should employ “every legal means that will help the enemy leave our land.”

The petitions to disqualify Gupstein, Marzek and Otzma Yehudit was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, as well as representatives from Kahol Lavan, the Labor Party and the Democratic Union. The petition to disqualify the Joint Arab List was filed by Otzma Yehudit, with support from the Likud party and MK David Bitan, deputy chair of the election committee.