The Central Elections Committee on Wednesday voted to approve the candidacy of the Joint List for the upcoming election, hours after it nixed the individual run of one of the majority Arab party’s more firebrand lawmakers.
The body made up of representatives from all of the current factions in the Knesset voted 18-4 to reject a petition filed by the far-right Otzma Yehudit party demanding that the entire Joint List be disqualified over allegations that it supports terrorism. The Joint List won 13 seats in September’s elections.
Representatives from the Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas right-wing religious parties were not present.
Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir took note of their absence in a statement following the vote, blasting Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett in particular for not sending a representative to participate in the hearing.
“After Bennett disqualified me from running on his list, he now has verified the run of a party of terror supporters,” Ben Gvir said, referring to the Yamina head’s veto on the Otzma Yehudit chairman joining his alliance of national religious parties.
During Wednesday’s elections committee hearing, Ben Gvir presented dozens of pieces of evidence, which he claimed proved that Joint List members support acts of terror against Israeli civilians — accusations the party has denied, saying that while it supports the Palestinian struggle for independence, it opposes violence.
Earlier Wednesday, the same elections committee voted in favor of disqualifying the Joint List’s MK Heba Yazbak.
Voting 27-7, the committee, led by a Supreme Court justice and made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s political factions, accepted the petition filed against Yazbak by Likud MK Ofir Katz, who claimed that she has “systematically, for years, supported terrorists and spies who have committed horrific crimes against the State of Israel and its residents.”
Israel’s election laws ban anyone who openly supports armed conflict against Israel or incites racism from running for Knesset.
“There is no place in the Knesset for those who support a murderer of a 4-year-old girl with a rifle butt, spies for Hezbollah terrorists and terrorists who shoot at civilians,” the petition stated.
Yazbak, a member of the Arab nationalist Balad party in the Joint List alliance, faced specific criticism over two Facebook posts: one in 2015 in praise of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 took part in the brutal murder of members of an Israeli family in the northern city of Nahariya; and another that welcomed the end of a nine-year sentence for Amir Makhoul, who pleaded guilty to handing sensitive information to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
She was also criticized for statements she made that some have read as condoning violence against Israeli soldiers.
Addressing the committee, Yazbak called the claims “absurd” and said the attacks against her were “based on racism.”
Almost all of the Knesset’s Jewish lawmakers united behind the efforts to ban Yazbak, including the centrist Blue and White party and parts of the left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz.
Despite the decision, any ruling by the committee to bar a candidate must be also upheld by the Supreme Court, which is seen as likely to adopt Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s position that Yazbak should not be barred.
Mandelblit issued a statement on Monday saying he opposed the disqualification of Yazbak, saying that she came very close to crossing the threshold for disqualification for the Knesset, but did not quite cross the line.
The committee also voted unanimously Wednesday to disqualify a political party established by the wife of Yigal Amir, the murderer of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The panel voted 13-0 to ban Mishpat Tzedek (Fair Trial), which is headed by Larissa Trimbobler-Amir and calls for a retrial for the convicted killer and “all other innocent people unjustly incarcerated.”
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told the panel Tuesday that the party should not be barred from running for Knesset, noting that Trimbobler-Amir had signed an affidavit stating that the party was not justifying the murder of Rabin but, rather, that it sought to secure Amir’s release through a retrial.
Amir, now 49, is serving a life sentence for the 1995 assassination of Rabin. He remains in solitary confinement, though he got married while in prison in 2004 after a protracted legal struggle.