The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday disqualified Ra’am-Balad, one of the country’s two main Arab-Israeli parties, from running in the upcoming elections after voting in favor of a petition to have the party banned.
The decision was passed by 17 votes in favor and 10 against.
The committee, which is staffed by Knesset lawmakers and chaired by a Supreme Court justice, also voted to disqualify Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the other Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al.
The Supreme Court will have the final say on both decisions, however, which flew in the face of a recommendation by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The petition against Balad-Ra’am was filed by the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Otzma Yehudit parties, which claimed that the Arab-Israeli party is “seeking to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, and supports the violent Palestinian resistance and Hezbollah, and most of its members are supporters and backers of terror.”
In 2015, the same committee voted to disqualify MK Hanin Zoabi of the Balad party before the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court on appeal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the ruling Likud party, welcomed the development and tweeted that “those who support terror won’t be in the Knesset.”
Ra’am-Balad responded to the decision in a statement declaring it was a racist measure aimed at excluding Arab citizens from participating in the democratic process.
“The decision to disqualify the list is a political, racist and populist decision aimed to deliver a blow to the political representation of Arab citizens,” the party said in a statement. “It is no surprise that a panel of racist parties that do not want to see Arabs in the Knesset is targeting us. Balad is a slate that presents a democratic platform and works to promote equal rights.”
In addition to Ra’am-Balad, the committee accepted a petition to disqualify Kasif of Hadash-Ta’al, citing provocative comments he has made in the past, including calling the justice minister “neo-Nazi scum.”
Along with his comment against Ayelet Shaked, Kasif in the past was accused of comparing Israel and the IDF to the Nazi regime, of calling to fight against “Judeo-Nazis,” and voicing support for changing the national anthem.
Last month, in an interview with Haaretz, Kasif said Israel was carrying out a “creeping genocide” of the Palestinians.
Ofer Kasif told the committee that the comments evoking Nazi and fascist comparisons were metaphors stemming from his area of expertise as a political scientist.
His disqualification, which was passed with a 15-10 vote, was supported by committee members from the centrist Yesh Atid party, which is led by MK Yair Lapid.
The decisions came despite an opinion delivered the day before by Mandelblit, the attorney general, who recommended that Ra’am-Balad and Kasif be permitted to run in the elections.
Kasif did not initially attend for the committee meeting, held at the Knesset, but later arrived after committee chair Justice Hanan Melcer insisted he be there.
Responding to the disqualification, Kasif vowed to appeal in the Supreme Court and said the decision showed the committee members were pushing “discriminatory and exclusionary politics.”
MK Ayman Odeh, who leads the Hadash-Ta’al party, denounced Kasif’s ban, saying it was an attempt to “silence those who oppose a discriminatory and racist regime.”
During long hours of deliberations the committee considered various petitions to disqualify Knesset candidates from the right and left extremes of Israeli politics, as well as their parties.
The committee rejected a petition to ban the entire Hadash-Ta’al party from the elections. Earlier Wednesday, it voted to reject petitions to disqualify the Jewish extremist party Otzma Yehudit, despite Mandelblit advising that Otzma lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari be banned.
Israel’s national elections are scheduled for April 9.