Only in the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Bezalel Smotrich could the desire for civic equality between Arabs and Jews be equated with incitement to racism. On Wednesday the Supreme Court heard the appeal of the Central Elections Committee’s electoral disqualification of Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif, from running in next month’s Knesset election, on the grounds that he rejected the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
On Thursday the court will hear the appeal of the disqualification of the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List as well as the appeal of the panel’s decision to permit the candidacies of Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, Kahanists from Otzma Yehudit. Rulings on the three appeals are expected Sunday.
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The struggle for full civic equality, even if Israeli Zionists finds it uncomfortable, is a legitimate political struggle that should take place in the legislature. By contrast, the racism of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s followers is not legitimate. One must reject any effort to draw a symmetry, a comparison of “the extremists on both sides” — between Cassif, who champions equality, opposes the occupation and calls for Jewish-Arab cooperation, and the Kahanists, who reject democratic values, hate Arabs and favor their expulsion, at best.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also expressed support for disqualifying Ben Ari and opposition to disqualifying Cassif. Mendelblit said that while he disapproved of Cassif’s statements, the “critical mass of evidence” required for a candidate’s disqualification was not present.
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With the exception of its chairman, however, the Central Elections Committee is composed entirely of politicians; in keeping with the zeitgeist in the Knesset, they ignored Mendelblit’s opinion. They rejected Cassif and approved Ben Ari, despite the incriminating quotes submitted to the committee by the attorney general, and his explanation that the vast majority of Ben Ari’s remarks “refer to the Arab community as a whole, and not only to those who were involved in terror activity.” Mendelblit added, “Ben Ari calls for the violent denial of the rights of the Arab population, for the systematic and deliberate humiliation of the Arab population, which is identified on a national-ethnic basis as a ‘murderous nation,’ ‘with a treacherous and murderous character,’ people who ‘understand only force’ and the like.”
The right to vote and to be elected is derived from the principle of equality, the foundation on which democracy rests. That’s why undermining this right is justified only in the most extreme cases, when the enemies of democracy use the freedom that democracy assures them and the tools it provides in order to damage it. Cassif does not meet that definition. On the other hand, Ben Ari’s incitement to racism, which the attorney general called “a call for the violent denial of rights and the systematic and deliberate humiliation of parts of the population” is an example of an extreme and exceptional case that justifies disqualification.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.