Attorney general: Labor candidate can’t be banned for ignoring Memorial Day

Avichai Mandelblit says comments made by Ibtisam Mara’ana don’t justify blocking her from running; Central Elections hearing to be held on Wednesday

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Director Ibtisam Mara'ana-Menuhin discusses her work at a film screening in Jerusalem (courtesy)
Director Ibtisam Mara'ana-Menuhin discusses her work at a film screening in Jerusalem (courtesy)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued an opinion Tuesday opposing a ban on an Arab Labor party candidate from running in the March elections over her past controversial comments about Memorial Day and other statements that her critics have deemed anti-Zionist.

The Central Elections Committee is set to consider a petition to bar Labor’s No. 7 candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana from running in the upcoming parliamentary vote at a hearing on Wednesday. Even if she is disqualified, the Supreme Court could overturn the decision, as it has often done in the past with other candidates disqualified by the committee.

The petition was filed by Labor member Maozia Segal, an IDF veteran who was badly injured during his service, and backed by other party members as well as the right-wing Likud, New Hope and Religious Zionism parties. It calls for her removal from the Labor slate for declaring in the past that she had deliberately ignored an annual two minutes of silence held on Memorial Day, which honors Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims, as well as other comments that the petitioners consider anti-Zionist or supportive of terrorism.

The chief controversy stems from a 2012 social media post by Mara’ana in which she wrote that she had continued to drive her car as the annual memorial siren sounded. The majority of drivers in Israel stop during the siren and stand by their vehicle.

In the post, Mara’ana wrote: “I did not stand during the siren, I was driving while the whole country was almost silent. I decided to keep going and there were two wonderful minutes during the siren. The road was empty, I kept thinking about what really interested me at that moment.”

Director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin at a screening of a 2017 documentary film which she produced (courtesy)

Mandelblit said that after reviewing Mara’ana’s statements, some of which she has apologized for, he does not believe they pass the threshold determined by the law to justify preventing her from running.

According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, a slate or individual candidate can disqualified if their goals or actions, either explicitly or implicitly, deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or support an armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization.

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

Speaking to Channel 12 News Saturday, Mara’ana said she had written the post a long time ago, and added that she now honors the siren when outdoors. She said she would not write the same thing today.

“I stand up during the siren when I am outside,” she said. She apologized for hurting “a mother, father, brother or sister who lost their daughter or son — it doesn’t matter what the reasons are.”

Still, Mara’ana claimed the outcry against her was due to a double standard regarding the country’s Arab population. “If I were not an Arab, would I be facing what I am facing?” she asked. “Would they call me a terrorist?”

Mara’ana, a documentary filmmaker, hails from a northern Arab Israeli town but identifies as Palestinian. She is married to a Jewish Israeli.

In a separate post in 2013, which has also been spotlighted in the controversy, Mara’ana wrote: “How did the Holocaust affect the sex lives of Holocaust survivors?”

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