Israel's Election Panel Allows Kahanist Party to Run for Knesset

Petition to bar Otzma Yehudit fails to secure majority vote because Labor member and his replacement were absent from the session ■ Final decision on petition to bar party and its candidates will be made by Supreme Court

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

The Central Election Committee on Wednesday denied a petition to bar the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party from running in Israel's upcoming election on September 17.

It also voted down petitions to individually block its members Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein from participating in the Knesset race.

The committee also rejected the petition to bar Arab-majority Joint List from running. "The committee rejected the petition against the Joint List, but in the meantime, Likud has voted for a forever pure Knesset. Otzma Yehudit will not pass the electoral threshold, but Bibi has inserted Kahanism into the heart of the Israeli right," said Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh. 

A final ruling on the petitions is expected to be issued by the Supreme Court in the coming days.

The petition to block Otzma Yehudit failed to receive a majority vote because one of Labor's representatives had been absent. The missing representative was Sami Shoshan, the brother-in-law of Labor chairman Amir Peretz. His replacement, Yair Ohana, was also truant.  According to Labor, their absence from the vote was the result of a "human error."

The left-wing Democratic Union slate issued a statement saying: "The deal is complete ... [Labor leaders] are deep in the right wing. The Labor party has divorced itself from its voters, who are against Kahanists and against racism."

The petition to block the party itself was filed by the Labor Party, the Democratic Union, Knesset member Issawi Frej of Meretz and the Reform Center for Religion and State.

The Reform Center for Judaism and State published a statement condemning the decision, for it supports "racism and incitement to violence and shamefully fails to execute the Basic Laws of the Knesset." It said the pre-ruling discussion was off-topic, disregarded the evidence, and marked by bullying behavior: 

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The votes took place after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Tuesday night that he supports barring Marzel and Gopstein from contending in the election, though he stopped short of disqualifying the party as a whole from the race. Nor did he agree to bar its leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, from running.

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.

Mendelblit explained that he and the state prosecutor believe Marzel and Gopstein should be barred because a "critical mass of evidence has accrued, in fact far beyond that, from which a clear, categorical picture emerges of incitement to racism by them, methodically and over years."

He added that their incitement is as severe and extensive as in the case of Michael Ben Ari, whose candidacy to the 21st Knesset was disqualifiedby the Supreme Court.

The evidence of incitement to racism over years, including in the last year, is firmly based, Mendelblit said. "Marzel treats Israeli Arabs in general as an enemy threatening the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Marzel calls time and again to act against this enemy – to harm him physically, to prevent his employment and livelihood, to evict him from his home, and more – to banish him from the land of Israel."

The attorney general presented numerous examples of statements by the two. Marzel for instance said, "I understand that there is just one solution, and it is the Jewish solution of the Holy Torah – separation, segregation, not mixing. We are here and they are there. The enemy should be sent to the Arab nations."

Marzel also said that "every Arab today becomes a suspicious object as our teacher Rabbi Kahane said."

Among Gopstein's statements were: "The nice ones are enemies too. He's a good Arab, he's a sweet Arab, sweeter than honey, but he's my enemy." He also claimed that according to Jewish law, killing Arabs is permissible, and said that some "deserve to have violence used against them, yes. An Arab man who makes a pass at a Jewish woman, I don't think he should continue walking in the streets with his Jewess too much."

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, embraces deportation, 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.”