Elections Committee clears Jewish Home MK’s run on Likud ticket

Committee members approve Eli Ben Dahan’s placement on Netanyahu’s roster as part of electoral deal between the two parties that brought in extremist party

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on January 19, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on January 19, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Central Elections Committee on Tuesday struck down an appeal against Jewish Home MK Eli Ben Dahan’s placement on the Likud party’s Knesset slate.

Ben Dahan’s placement on Likud’s roster, part of a deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home in exchange for the party uniting with the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction ahead of the April 9 election, had drawn legal challenges from inside and outside the ruling party.

According to the deal, if he is elected to the Knesset, Ben Dahan will split off and rejoin Jewish Home.

Ben Dahan was given the 28th spot on the party’s slate. Likud is currently polling at about 30 seats out of the 120-member Knesset.

In their petition to the committee, a group of top legal officials had argued that allowing one party’s lawmaker to run in another party was a form of election fraud, as the move would take votes from one party and artificially deliver them to another.

But in a vote Tuesday evening, the body elected to allow the agreement, with 19 committee members voting against striking it down and 10 voting in favor.

The decision came after a representative for the attorney general’s office told the committee there was no legal obstacle to the deal, adding that there was precedent to such an accord between parties.

In February, when the agreement was announced, the chair of the election committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, had said it could raise legal issues  “There is no precedent for an arrangement like the one reached by Netanyahu and Jewish Home, and there might be a discussion on the legality of this agreement,” he said.

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer at a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, February 7, 2019. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Melcer did not participate in Tuesday’s vote.

A group of Likud Central Committee members had also sought to thwart the move, appealing to the party’s internal court against action that would intentionally reduce the party’s parliamentary strength. Their appeal was rejected.

According to the agreement signed in February and engineered by the prime minister, Jewish Home agreed to join with Otzma Yehudit, in a bid to make sure both parties together manage to pass the electoral threshold. Netanyahu also promised to give Jewish Home two ministerial posts should he form the next government.

Netanyahu’s move to facilitate entry into the Knesset of disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane was widely condemned by politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as major Jewish groups abroad.

In a pre-emptive effort to sidestep the legal challenges to the deal, Ben Dahan joined Likud’s slate not as a member of Jewish Home but of the defunct Achi party, which was founded in the 1990s by former minister Effie Eitam and has been out of the Knesset since 2009. Ben Dahan will now run as the solitary member of the party, alongside Likud.

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)

Legal petitions were also filed against the merger of Jewish Home with Otzma Yehudit under the banner of the Union of Right Wing Parties. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday rejected one such appeal, though several others remain.

Otzma Yehudit is the spiritual successor to Kahane’s Kach party, which was barred from the Knesset under a Basic Law outlawing incitement to violence and later banned entirely in Israel.

It calls for Israel’s Jewish character to supersede its democratic nature; 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; and calls for a termination of the fragile status quo on the Temple Mount.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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