AG to urge disqualifying extremist right candidates Gopstein, Marzel
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AG to urge disqualifying extremist right candidates Gopstein, Marzel

TV report says Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendation centers on the Otzma Yehudit leaders’ racist public statements

Extreme right politician Baruch Marzel at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 17, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Extreme right politician Baruch Marzel at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, February 17, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly planning to recommend that two senior members of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party be prohibited from running in Israel’s elections in September.

Mandelblit will base 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, according to a Monday report carried by Channel 13.

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 attorney Itamar 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 the list.

Mandelblit’s reported recommendation is a response to a petition to the Central Elections Committee by the left-wing Democratic Camp party.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a ceremony for new Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on June 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mandelblit is said to be 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.

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a public statement reportedly cited in Mandelblit’s as-yet unpublished opinion, Gopstein is quoted as saying at his daughter’s wedding, “Let’s say that if an Arab waiter was here, he wouldn’t be serving the food, he’d be looking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.”

Benzi Gopstein, leader of the extremist group Lehava, speaks at a ceremony in Jerusalem honoring the late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane on November 17, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit lashed the reported decision, which was leaked 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.”

Democratic Camp lawmaker and former Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg praised Mandelblit’s reported recommendation.

Then-Meretz party leader MK Tamar Zandberg at a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I’m happy the attorney general agreed to support our appeal to disqualify the Kahanists. Kahanism isn’t free speech, it’s terrorism. The Kahanists have no place in Israel’s Knesset,” she said.

The attorney general’s recommendation is not the final word, but has carried significant weight over a party’s fate in the past.

The Central Elections 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 committee can then be appealed to the High Court of Justice.

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