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'I was born to be a bridge between the peoples'

Defending candidacy in Supreme Court, Arab would-be Labor MK again apologizes

Justices expected to overturn election committee’s decision to bar Ibtisam Mara’ana from running in election over controversial comments about Memorial Day; court to rule next week

Labor party member Ibtisam Mara'ana arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party member Ibtisam Mara'ana arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana, banned by a Knesset panel from running in the election over controversial remarks she had made in the past about Memorial Day, along with other comments some have called anti-Zionist, again apologized at a Supreme Court hearing on her candidacy on Wednesday. The court’s decision is expected at the start of next week.

“Absolutely, unequivocally I apologize for anything that could have sounded racist and inciting or offensive,” Mara’ana said.

“I was born to be a bridge between the peoples. I am married to a Jew and our daughter is 100 percent Jewish, and 100 percent Arab.

“I am sorry that you are forced to deal with this — there are probably more important things than me,” she told the court.

The petitions passed by the Central Elections Committee last week called for Mara’ana’s 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 deemed anti-Zionist or supportive of terrorism.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (L)and Labor party member Ibtisam Mara’ana (R) seen at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem as they arrive for a court hearing on the decision of the central election committee to disqualify her candidacy in the upcoming general election, on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, told reporters after the hearing, “I hope that soon we will be able to act from the Knesset to prevent people like [Mara’ana] from running for Knesset.”

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The banning of Mara’ana by the Central Elections Committee is widely expected to be overturned by the court, which will release its decision by Sunday, the Ynet news site reported. The court has been known to overturn decisions to disqualify candidates, most recently ruling against a ban on Joint List MK Heba Yazbak that was based on her sharing of social media posts appearing to praise terrorists.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said that after reviewing Mara’ana’s statements and apologies, he does not believe her comments 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 be 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.

Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing on the decision of the central election committee to disqualify Labor party member Ibtisam Mara’ana’s candidacy in the upcoming general election, on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The chief controversy stems from a 2012 social media post 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.

Speaking to Channel 12 earlier this month, 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.

She also apologized for hurting the feelings of “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?”

Two petitions had been filed against Mara’ana with the elections committee: one by Otzma Yehudit and the second 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.

Segal told the Kan public broadcaster that his petition was submitted “out of a deep belief that a citizen who speaks in public as Mara’ana did cannot be in the Knesset on behalf of the Labor party, of which I am a member.”

The photo of mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein hung in the home of Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

The extreme-right Otzma Yehudit, which filed one of the petitions against Mara’ana, has itself been the subject of disqualification efforts in the past. Its leader, Ben Gvir, infamously had a photo of the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein, hanging in his home. Ben Gvir has defended the photo, saying he keeps it up out of respect for Goldstein, who saved many Jewish lives as a doctor, before he entered Hebron’s Tomb of Patriarchs and shot dead 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others.

Segal said it caused him “great sadness” that his petition was heard alongside that of the extremist right-wing party.

When the panel banned Mara’ana last week, Labor head Merav Michaeli asserted that the efforts to disqualify her were part of a program of incitement against her, similar to the things said about prime minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination in 1995.

“We are continuing the same campaign of incitement that began in 1993 against Rabin to this very moment. There is no difference between what was done to [Mara’ana] and what was done to Rabin,” Michaeli told Army Radio.

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

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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