Joint List 'Won't Recommend' Lapid or Gantz for Premiership in Upcoming Israeli Election

Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi says that he does not believe the three Arab parties will pass the threshold in the forthcoming Israeli election ■ 'We strongly suggest he run in Ramallah elections,' Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker says following submission of request to disqualify Balad chairman

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Israeli Arab politicians, from foreground left, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Sami Abu Shehadeh, stand during a visit to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in 2021.
Israeli Arab politicians, from foreground left, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Sami Abu Shehadeh, stand during a visit to the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in 2021.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/ AP

The chairman of the Hadash-Ta'al political alliance (known as the Joint List when running with Balad in previous elections), Ayman Odeh, said on Sunday that Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will not get a recommendation from his party to form Israel’s next government unless they change their attitude towards the Arab public.

"There is no doubt that we do not want to see Ben Gvir and Smotrich and this whole group in power," Odeh said in an interview with Israel's army radio, referring to two high-profile far-right lawmakers. He clarified, however, that "this does not mean that we will recommend Lapid and Gantz. With their current attitude, they will not receive a recommendation.”

This comes amid talks of disqualifying the Arab party Balad, a member of the former Joint List alliance, from the incoming Knesset. Lapid, for his part, has not yet decided whether he would support such a move, while Yisrael Beiteinu has already submitted a request for the party's disqualification.

According to Odeh, his party will only recommend a candidate who will support a raft of measures, including repeal of the Nationality Law and the Kaminitz law, the latter of which is a contentious law targeting Arabs for construction violations. The candidate, he says, must also stop the demolition of houses in Israel's south and eradicate crime and end a number of harmful economic policies. Odeh added that the last time he spoke with Lapid was a month ago.

He also said that increasing Israeli Arab voter turnout "will be enough to prevent Ben Gvir or Smotrich from being in power," adding that the situation is dangerous and that "those who do not want Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Smotrich should strive for a government as broad as possible."

Regarding the party’s current dispute with other Arab party, Balad, which led to the split of the Joint List, Odeh said "some internal conflicts" within Balad prevented the union, but that the Joint List will "stand by them" if racists attack Balad.

He added, "There are many good things to say about Balad and also about its representatives who worked together, but we simply had an argument. I wish Balad success.”

Ta'al chairman Ahmad Tibi said on Sunday, in an interview on public radio Kan, that he does not believe "the three parties will exceed the electoral threshold," referring to Hadash-Ta'al, Balad and Ra'am. "This requires raising the voting rate… Balad will act accordingly."

Tibi maintains that he understands Balad's position, "but we acted wisely." He added, "I do not mean to tell others what to do, but I hope everyone will act responsibly" so as not to harm Arab representation. He said he refrained from running in a past election, in 1996, because he "saw there was no chance."

According to the latest poll published on Saturday, the bloc of parties supporting Benjamin Netanyahu's candidacy for prime minister are slated to receive 60 seats, compared with 56 for the parties in the current government. According to the poll, if the elections were held today, Likud would receive 33 seats and Yesh Atid 24. Balad would not pass the electoral threshold with 1.5 percent of the votes.

Disqualifying Balad

Yisrael Beiteinu has reportedly already submitted a request to disqualify Balad chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh from the upcoming Knesset.

Party member Limor Magen-Talem said that Abu Shehadeh is an "existential threat" to Israel and that "we will do everything to ensure that people who do not recognize that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and are working to deny the symbols of the state do not sit in the Knesset."

"We strongly suggest that he [Abu Shehadeh] run in Ramallah elections," she added.

Hadash and Ta’al, the two other parties in the Joint List, have ratcheted up public pressure to oust Balad from the alliance. Over the next few days, the Joint List is expected to consider the feasibility of launching a campaign calling for Balad to leave the alliance in order to avoid harming Arab representation in the Knesset.

Referring to both their exclusion from the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu's request, Balad said the "attempts to silence" Sami Abu Shehadeh "prove that the political system in Israel does not want to see Balad and wants to erase the national and democratic Arab voice."

Senior Likud members, on the other hand, say that the party voting to disqualify Balad is contingent on the disqualification of all Arab parties. They believe solely disqualifying Balad will help Likud's opponents by preventing the loss of votes predicted in the latest polls – those that show Balad will not make it into the Knesset.

Lawmaker Eli Cohen, third on the Likud roster, said Saturday in an interview with Kan that disqualifying Balad alone would "help the left and Lapid to establish a ruling coalition with the Joint List.” However, this is still not Likud’s official stance on the matter.

The positions of the rest of the parties supporting Benjamin Netanyahu's candidacy for prime minister might be influenced by Likud’s stance. Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich declined to say whether he would vote to disqualify Balad in the Central Election Committee. In an interview with Kan, Smotrich said all parties running in the Knesset election should be disqualified, and that he would make his decision in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yair Lapid has not yet decided whether he will act to disqualify Balad from running. Although such a move could prevent the loss of the party’s voters, with the party currently well below the election threshold, it could reduce the number of Arabs voters in the upcoming election.

Sources in left-wing Meretz have said the party is opposed to disqualifying Balad. In a statement to the press, Meretz Knesset faction leader Michal Rozin said that those wishing to "disqualify elected public officials from Israel’s Arab community" aim to "invalidate the legitimacy of Arab citizens" and reduce their voter turnout.

The National Unity Party, an alliance of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, is expected to vote in favor of the disqualification, but it has not yet made a decision.

Given Meretz and the Arab parties' resistance to disqualifying Balad, Lapid will not have majority support for the move without the support of the parties backing opposition leader Netanyahu for prime minister. Even if the right-wing parties do support the move, it is not certain that Balad will be barred from running in the upcoming Knesset election, as the decision by the Central Election Committee is subject to judicial oversight by the High Court of Justice – which has in the past overturned decisions by the committee and is cautious about disqualifying candidates.

If the Joint List's campaign to oust Balad is believed to have a reasonable chance of success, Lapid may decide to refrain from a decision to disqualify the party. A decision must be made by September 22 – the deadline for submitting proposals for disqualifications of candidates or parties from running in the upcoming Knesset election.

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