Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, on Wednesday announced plans to file another libel suit against left-wing lawmaker Stav Shaffir after claiming she compared him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Shaffir earlier on Wednesday urged the Central Elections Committee to disqualify the far-right Otzma Yehudit from the September elections for Knesset during a committee debate that devolved into a shouting match.
Several political parties and social groups have all petitioned the Knesset committee to disqualify Otzma Yehudit, which is composed of followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
During the debate, Shaffir warned that Otzma Yehudit’s “terrible racism” would destroy Israel’s “delicate social fabric,” and accused the party of “bullying” opponents as it “crawls its way into the Knesset.”
She called Otzma Yehudit “anti-Zionist” and “anti-democratic,” sparking cries of protest from Ben Gvir and other party members attending the debate.
Committee chairman and Supreme Court justice Hanan Melcer ordered Shaffir’s microphone cut off after she ignored several calls to finish her comments.
Following Wednesday’s debate, Shaffir lashed out at Army Radio for including Ben Gvir among the Knesset hopefuls it was interviewing throughout the day. The talk show host defended his interview with Ben Gvir, saying his job was to encourage free speech from all sides, not stifle it.
After Ynet reporter Ran Boker inquired about her criticism of Army Radio on Twitter, Shaffir responded: “Dear Ran, not to compare, God forbid — but would you let Hitler come on your show? Free speech, yes — incitement to racism, no. Free speech yes, damaging our democracy — no. No fear.”
Though she prefaced her question with “not to compare,” Ben Gvir took umbrage at the remark anyway and said he intended to file a second slander suit against Shaffir demanding NIS 500,000 ($143,000) in damages. He is accusing Shaffir of “incitement and cheapening the Holocaust out of atrocious ignorance.”
Ben Gvir is already suing Shaffir for libel over her comments ahead of the April elections in which she branded his extremist political party akin to Nazism.
In response, Shaffir’s Democratic Camp vowed not to back down against the extremist party. “The days of being afraid are over,” the party said in a statement. “We’re not afraid to fight the inciting, backward, racist Kahanists.”
Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Kahane. The party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and to accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
Otzma Yehudit’s former No. 1 Michael Ben-Ari was barred from running in the April elections by the Supreme Court due to the racism clause, and was replaced at the party’s helm by Ben Gvir. Shaffir and her Labor party led the campaign to have Ben-Ari disqualified by the court in April.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recommended to the Central Elections Committee that senior Otzma members Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein be prohibited from running in Israel’s elections in September.
In his legal opinion submitted to the committee, Mandelblit said Marzel and Gopstein’s long record of virulent racist statements against Arabs was grounds for disqualification under Israel’s anti-racism laws, but said there was no grounds to bar Ben Gvir from the race.
The elections committee, made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s factions and chaired by a Supreme Court justice, will vote on Otzma Yehudit’s participation in the elections in the coming weeks. Any decision by the body can then be appealed to the High Court of Justice.