The Last Gatekeeper

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the High Court of Justice's decision on whether to disqualify various parties and individuals from running for the 21st Knesset

Far-right politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben Ari at a Supreme Court hearing, on March 14, 2019.

It’s hard to exaggerate this weekend’s importance in shaping Israel’s future. On Sunday, the High Court of Justice will apparently publish its decision on whether to disqualify various parties and individuals from running for the 21st Knesset. 

The issues on the agenda are the Central Elections Committee’s refusal to disqualify Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit, and its decisions to disqualify a joint ticket comprised of two Arab parties, United Arab List and Balad, as well as Jewish MK Ofer Cassif of the Arab-Jewish Hadash. Once the court publishes its decision, we will know whether Israel still has gatekeepers who will stand in the breach, or whether even the last of them has been defeated by the ugly tide of ultra-nationalism and racism that is sweeping the country.

In the background, a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resounds in all its severity: “Israel isn’t the state of all its citizens,” he said. “According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it alone.”

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In ruling on the disqualification petitions, the High Court cannot ignore the prime minister’s remarks, which effectively laid the legal groundwork for establishing an apartheid state in which equal rights, as required in any democracy, don’t exist, and instead, one national group enjoys an built-in advantage over another. This is the moment when the High Court must speak out loudly and clearly about minority rights in this country.

The High Court must also end the warped symmetry in which the same rule applies to incitement to racism (Otzma Yehudit) and the battle for equality (United Arab List-Balad). In a situation in which no less a person than the prime minister has declared that Israel is not an egalitarian state and effectively confirmed the official discrimination against its Arab citizens and the denial of their national rights, the responsibility resting on the justices’ shoulders is doubly important.

The court must make clear what is no longer self-evident: All of the country’s citizens are equal, regardless of differences of religion, race or sex. Israel is the state of the Jewish people by virtue of its Jewish majority and the Declaration of Independence, but not at the expense of the rights of the minorities living here.

United Arab List-Balad faithfully represents some of Israel’s citizens. Nothing in its platform or positions violates the law. Therefore, the High Court must rigorously protect its right to run in the election.

In contrast, Otzma Yehudit preaches racism and seeks to undermine the rights of Arab citizens. Therefore, the court must not allow its representatives to run for Knesset. It’s so simple, but so crucial.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.