Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday night backed a petition to the Central Elections Committee calling to disqualify the candidacy of Michael Ben Ari, the chairman of the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction, which folded into the Union of Right Wing Parties last month.
In a legal opinion drafted in response to one of several petitions filed against the far-right slate, Mandelblit differentiated between Ben Ari and the party’s second representative Itamar Ben Gvir, and recommended authorizing the candidacy of the latter.
Ben Ari is fifth on the slate of the URWP, an amalgam of Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), while Ben Gvir is eighth. Polls over the past week have predicted the right-wing alliance will receive about seven seats, placing Ben Ari comfortably in the Knesset with Ben Gvir remaining just outside of it before the petitions.
The Central Elections Committee will be convening on Wednesday in order to make a decision regarding Otzma Yehudit; however, no candidate or party can be officially disqualified without ratification from the Supreme Court.
In response to Mandelblit’s ruling, the URWP released a statement asserting that “someone apparently has set a goal of overthrowing the right-wing government and is acting by all means at its disposal.”
The hardline slate argued that the attorney general had demonstrated hypocrisy in authorizing the candidacy of “Arab Knesset members who support terror” while disqualifying Ben Ari.
The attorney general’s legal opinion cited a host of intolerant quotes made by Ben Ari over the past decade, which Mandelblit argued demonstrated enough of a reason for disqualifying Ben Ari on grounds of incitement to racism.
Ben Ari is a former National Union MK who broke away from the party in order to start a new far-right faction in 2012; this, in turn, went on to become Otzma Yehudit.
Mandelblit explained that his decision leaned heavily on recent public remarks made by Ben Ari, some of which were posted on Otzma Yehudit’s Facebook page.
According to the attorney general, the quotes clearly indicate that Ben Ari incites against Israel’s Arab and other minority populations.
Among the statements from the Otzma Yehudit chairman highlighted by Mandelblit was one from August 2018 in which Ben Ari stated, “We have to change the equation regarding anyone who dares to speak against a Jew. [Such a person] is a dead man. He must not come out alive. No expelling him, no stripping him of his citizenship. He does not live! A firing squad takes him out as the Arabs understand [best].”
In a speech from November 2017, also cited by the attorney general, Ben Ari said of the Palestinians: “We give them another 100,000 dunams [thinking] maybe they will love us. In the end, yes, they do love us, [but] slaughtered… Rabbi Kahane taught us that there is no coexistence with them.”
Regarding Ben Gvir, Mandelblit wrote that while the evidence against him was “extremely disturbing,” it was not enough to recommend that the far-right attorney-activist be disqualified as well.
Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late ultra-nationalist 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 accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
The ultra-nationalist faction’s union with Jewish Home was orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu in an effort 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.
Israeli far-right political party Jewish Strength – Otzma Yehudit released a campaign ad mocking the Israel Defense Forces' rules of engagement for soldiers defending against terror attacks:
Posted by i24NEWS English on Monday, 4 March 2019
Earlier on Monday, Mandelblit gave an opposite recommendation in a different petition which sought to boot the URWP, in addition to opposing two other petitions that called for disqualifying Arab Israeli parties from running on April 9.
The attorney general dismissed as having no grounds the anti-URWP petition, which claimed that the right-wing party “harms equality.”
Mandelblit also rejected a petition against a campaign video by Otzma Yehudit that drew the ire of Arab lawmakers by depicting an IDF soldier hesitating to shoot a knife-wielding attacker over concerns he may violate strict rules of engagement. The petition denounced the video as incitement to racism, but Mandelblit found that the clip was not likely to make anyone think that the IDF and its soldiers identify with the Otzma Yehudit party. To the contrary, “the video expresses reservations about the way the army operates,” he wrote.
The attorney general also wrote that the petition against Arab-Israeli party Ra’am-Balad that claimed its members “seek to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state” and support violent Palestinian resistance, as well as the Hezbollah terror group, was not supported by enough evidence.