Likud candidate drops out of Knesset race over eligibility questions

Likud candidate drops out of Knesset race over eligibility questions

Pinchas Idan withdraws at recommendation of election committee, which questioned his desire to stay in civil service job in reduced capacity

Likud party member Pinchas Idan arrives at Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Likud party member Pinchas Idan arrives at Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset, on March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The 19th candidate on Likud’s election slate, Pinchas Idan, informed the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday he was withdrawing his name from the ruling party’s ticket due to questions surrounding his eligibility.

Idan is the head of the Israel Airports Authority labor union. Under Israeli election laws, senior officials at state-run companies must resign 100 days before taking office, which Idan did not do.

Instead, in January he requested and received a demotion that allowed him to retain his job while running for Knesset. Idan’s decision to remain at the IAA in a reduced capacity was seen as a bid to retain his state benefits in case he failed to get elected.

But Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who heads the Central Elections Committee, raised questions regarding the legitimacy of the move, warning Idan last month that it appeared he “only [demoted himself] for the purpose of presenting [his] candidacy.”

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, Melcer recommended that Idan drop out of the race and return to his position at the IAA.

Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer at a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, February 7, 2019. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Idan’s withdrawal means that Likud candidates numbered 20 and above moved ahead one spot.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the election committee upheld a controversial election deal that will see Jewish Home MK Eli Ben Dahan run on the Likud Knesset slate.

Ben Dahan’s placement on Likud’s roster, part of a deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home in exchange for the latter party uniting with the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction ahead of the April 9 election, drew legal challenges from inside and outside the ruling party.

According to the deal, if he is elected to the Knesset, Ben Dahan will split off and rejoin Jewish Home.

Ben Dahan was given the 28th spot on the party’s slate (as of Wednesday the 27th spot, following Idan’s withdrawal). Likud is currently polling at about 30 seats out of the 120-member Knesset.

A group of top legal officials petitioned the committee to strike down the Ben Dahan deal, arguing that allowing a lawmaker to run for another party was a form of election fraud. But the body elected to allow the agreement in a 19-10 vote Tuesday night.

The Jewish Home-Otzma merger was orchestrated by Netanyahu in a bid to prevent votes being lost if the individual parties failed to cross the Knesset threshold of 3.25%. However, the specter of Otzma Yehudit gaining a seat in the Knesset has drawn criticism from Israeli lawmakers and major Jewish groups around the world.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on January 19, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Legal petitions were filed against the preelection merger, called the Union of Right Wing Parties.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday rejected an appeal to strike down the merger, though he backed a petition to bar Otzma lawmaker Michael Ben Ari from running over his racist views.

In a legal opinion, Mandelblit drew a distinction between Ben Ari and the party’s number two, attorney-activist Itamar Ben Gvir, recommending approving the candidacy of the latter.

On Wednesday, the Central Elections Committee’s debate of Ben Ari’s candidacy quickly devolved into a shouting match.

Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late ultranationalist rabbi Meir Kahane. The party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and to accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

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