High Court hears petitions against Otzma Yehudit, Arab parties
search

High Court hears petitions against Otzma Yehudit, Arab parties

Justices expected to decide Sunday whether extremist Jewish party and anti-Zionist Arab ones will be allowed to run in September election

Right-wing activists shout at Joint (Arab) List lawmakers and candidates (unseen) as they arrive at a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions to disqualify their parties from standing in the September 2019 election, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Right-wing activists shout at Joint (Arab) List lawmakers and candidates (unseen) as they arrive at a hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions to disqualify their parties from standing in the September 2019 election, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a contentious hearing punctuated by protests from outside the courtroom, the High Court of Justice on Thursday heard left-wing petitions to disqualify the extremist Otzma Yehudit political party from running in the September elections, and right-wing ones to disqualify several Arab-majority factions.

One of Otzma Yehudit’s leaders, Bentzi Gopstein, who is personally named in the petitions against the party, boycotted the hearing, telling reporters that “the game is fixed. The judges already made their decision [to disqualify me] before the hearing.”

Gopstein leads the Lehava activist group that opposes interfaith and interethnic marriage. Lehava activists have staged violent protests outside Jewish-Muslim weddings and in the past called on the public to inform on any Jewish women dating non-Jewish men.

“All my activism is only to prevent assimilation,” Gopstein said Thursday. “That’s not racism, it’s Judaism. There’s no doubt that the Law of Return would be overturned by this panel [of judges] too.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, center, and fellow Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing on petitions to disqualify the extremist Otzma Yehudit party from running in the September 2019 election, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nine justices sat on Thursday’s panel, led by Chief Justice Esther Hayut. The court is slated to reconvene on Sunday to hand down its decisions.

Under Israeli election law, parties or candidates can be disqualified from running due to incitement to racism, rejecting the country’s identification as a Jewish and democratic state, or for supporting armed action against Israel by hostile states or terror groups.

The disqualification process begins in the Central Elections Committee, led by a Supreme Court justice and made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s political factions. But the law requires that the committee’s decisions be confirmed by the Supreme Court, which has the final say.

Otzma Yehudit candidate Baruch Marzel arrives at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on petitions to disqualify his party from running in the September 2019 elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On August 14, the Central Elections Committee narrowly rejected petitions against Otzma Yehudit in a tie vote after a raucous debate.

It also later gave the go ahead for three of Otzma Yehudit’s leaders, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein to run in the elections by a vote of 17 to 16.

In the Thursday hearing, the petitioners against Otzma Yehudit argued that the party and its leading candidates have a long history of explicit advocacy for racist ideas and policies.

A right-wing activist, front left, shouts at Joint (Arab) List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, front right, and fellow lawmakers Ofer Ksif, back right, and Saadia Osama, back left, as they arrive at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on petitions to disqualify their party from running in the September 2019 elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The faction’s leaders Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Gopstein, “who carry the torch of [extremist rabbi Meir] Kahane and the banned Kach movement, reject Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state,” argues the petition from the Blue and White party, which was presented to the court in the hearing. The faction also “seeks to act against the foundational values of democracy, equality and dignity, and against the rule of law and an independent judiciary.”

“We can’t let incitement and racism be given a seat of honor in parliament,” Blue and White MK Karine Elharrar said in the hearing. “We won’t let Gopstein, Marzel and Ben Gvir become the face of Israel.”

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 accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

Joint (Arab) List lawmakers Aida Touma-Suleiman, left, Ahmad Tibi, center, and Ofer Ksif at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem over right-wing petitions to disqualify their party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit’s former No. 1, Michael Ben Ari, was barred from running in the April elections by the Supreme Court under anti-racism laws, and was replaced at the party’s helm by Ben Gvir.

In a legal opinion submitted to the committee earlier this month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit singled out Marzel and Gopstein, saying their long record of virulent racist statements against Arabs was grounds for disqualification under Israel’s election laws.

Mandelblit added that he opposed disqualifying the party as a whole or its current head Ben Gvir, whose expressed views “skirted the line,” but did not clearly step over it.

Joint (Arab) List lawmakers Ahmad Tibi, right, Aida Touma-Suleiman, second right, and Saadia Osama, third right, look on as Otzma Yehudit candidate Itamar Ben Gvir arrives at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on a series of petitions to disqualify both factions from running in the September 2019 elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit is currently polling below the vote threshold and appears unlikely to enter the Knesset.

The court also heard petitions by far-right activists and right-wing parties against the Joint (Arab) List, an alliance of Arab-majority factions that represent a broad ideological and cultural spectrum in the Arab community.

Several Arab lawmakers and candidates arrived at the court hearing, and were harangued outside the chamber by far-right activists, apparently linked to Otzma Yehudit.

Otzma Yehudit candidates Baruch Marzel, right, and Itamar Ben Gvir, left, arrive at a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on petitions to disqualify their party from running in the September 2019 elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Get them out of here, they’re wicked,” protesters shouted, while some approached the Arab candidates to berate them.

Right-wing political forces have regularly petitioned to disqualify those parties on the grounds that they do not support Israel’s identification as a Jewish state. Ahead of the April 2019 race, the Central Elections Committee accepted one such petition and voted to disqualify Balad, the most stridently anti-Zionist of the Arab factions, but the decision was overturned by the High Court.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to disqualify the Joint List, having repeatedly thrown out petitions to bar Arab parties and politicians from running for the Knesset. Justices have argued that the court should tread lightly when considering denying a right as basic as running for election, and should demand overwhelming evidence and a clear-cut violation of the election law.

In a mid-August vote, the elections committee voted 17 to 12 to allow the Joint List to run in the election.

The High Court’s rulings are expected Sunday.

Join us!
A message from the Editor of Times of Israel
David Horovitz

The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

Become a member of The Times of Israel Community
read more:
comments