Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday recommended that two senior members of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party be prohibited from running in Israel’s elections in September, while saying there were no grounds to ban its leader, attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, from the race.
The attorney general also dismissed as frivolous a claim by Otzma Yehudit seeking to prevent the centrist Blue and White party from running over a controversial video against ultra-Orthodox politicians. He similarly rejected claims against the Joint List in his legal opinion submitted to the Central Elections Committee Tuesday.
Mandelblit based his recommendation on the Basic Law: The Knesset, which stipulates that political parties or candidates cannot run for office if they engage in incitement to racism.
Otzma Yehudit’s former No. 1 Michael Ben-Ari was barred from running in the April elections by the Supreme Court due to the racism clause, and was replaced at the party’s helm by Ben Gvir.
The attorney general backed the disqualification of Ben-Ari before the last race. Two other candidates, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, now join his list.
Mandelblit’s legal opinion is a response to a petition to the elections committee by the left-wing Democratic Camp party.
According to Channel 13 news, Mandelblit is basing his decision on a long record of virulent racist statements against Arabs by both Marzel and Gopstein.
Gopstein leads the racist Lehava organization, which opposes interfaith and inter-ethnic interaction, relationships and marriages. Lehava has held violent protests outside mixed Jewish-Muslim weddings and along the routes of gay pride parades, and has called on the public to alert the organization to cases where Jewish women are discovered to be dating Arab men.
In a public statement cited by the network as listed in Mandelblit’s opinion, Gopstein is quoted as saying at his daughter’s wedding, “Let’s say that if an Arab waiter was here, he wouldn’t be serving the food, he’d be looking for the nearest hospital.”
Marzel led extremist rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach party after its founder’s 1990 murder, and has long been identified with the faction’s goal of forcibly cleansing the country of Arabs. He continued to be among its top supporters until it disbanded in 1994 after the Israeli government declared it a terror group.
Marzel is reportedly quoted by Mandelblit in the disqualification recommendation as saying of Israel’s Arab citizens: “When we finish dealing with the enemy, tens of billions of shekels will be freed up that now go to waste. Sixty percent of the money of the National Insurance Institute goes to the enemy.”
Otzma Yehudit lashed the reported decision, which was leaked on Monday before Mandelblit received the party’s response to the accusations in the Democratic Camp’s appeal.
“Once again it turns out that the attorney general works for the Reform [Jews] and serves as the representative of the extremist left in the Justice Ministry. This shocking leak of the attorney general’s opinion, while Otzma Yehudit has yet to respond to the appeal [against its candidates], proves his view was pre-decided.”
It also accused the attorney general of turning a blind eye to “a long series of actions and serious statements by members of Knesset from the [Arab] Joint List, including visits and assistance to arch-terrorists sitting in prison, and Mandelblit doesn’t even consider disqualifying them.”
It called for Mandelblit’s resignation “this very night.”
The attorney general’s recommendation is not the final word, but has carried significant weight over a party’s fate in the past.
The committee, made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s factions and chaired by a Supreme Court justice, will vote on Otzma Yehudit’s participation in the elections in the coming weeks. Any decision by the body can then be appealed to the High Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently attempted unsuccessfully to broker a deal under which Otzma Yehudit would run on a joint ticket with other small right-wing parties in September. The far-right group rejected the overtures to merge with the other parties and will run independently in the fall.
Ahead of the April elections, the prime minister’s gambit was successful and the far-right party was folded into the Union of Right-Wing Parties, though no Otzma Yehudit candidates ultimately made it into the short-lived 21st Knesset.