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High Court overturns election bans for Arab Balad party and ex-Yamina MK Chikli

Unanimous decisions allow Balad to run in elections, while Chikli will be able to take up spot on Likud list; court also rejects appeal against allowing MK Idit Silman to run

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut (C) and fellow justices arrive for a hearing on the Central Elections Committee decision to disqualify Balad from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Jonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut (C) and fellow justices arrive for a hearing on the Central Elections Committee decision to disqualify Balad from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Jonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court on Sunday overturned election committee rulings against the Arab nationalist Balad party and former Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, allowing them to run in the upcoming elections.

Balad’s appeal was filed after the Central Elections Committee voted on September 29 to bar the party from running, accepting a petition claiming the party’s platform negates the existence of the State of Israel.

Balad and several of its lawmakers have been disqualified by past elections panels, but had won every appeal to the Supreme Court to be reinstated.

This time was no different, with all nine justices ruling that the party can run.

During the debate, judges expressed harsh criticism of the election committee’s decision.

“There is a shallow request here without evidence. The issue of disqualifying a party is too serious” for this sort of ruling, said Judge Anat Baron.

Head of the Balad party MK Sami Abou Shahadeh and party members arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court on the election committee decision to disqualify their party from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to polls, Balad is not expected to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold to enter the next Knesset. If it does not, its failure could lead to the nullification of a significant number of Arab votes, which could play a potentially key role in the predicted deadlock between rival political blocs in favor of the right wing-religious bloc led by Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu.

The judges also unanimously overturned the election committee ruling against Chikli, which had argued that Chikli had not quit the Knesset in a timely manner after being ousted from his former party, Yamina, and therefore was disqualified from running.

Chikli and Likud decried his disqualification as a miscarriage of justice, writing in a petition to the court last week that “the injustice caused to former MK Chikli screams to the heavens.”

Netanyahu had said that if elected prime minister, he would use his discretion to make Chikli a minister if the court rejected Likud’s petition to slot him back into the party’s roster.

In their appeal, Chikli and Likud wrote that “the basic constitutional right to vote and be elected” had been violated by his disqualification — a bedrock principle upon which the High Court weighs a candidate or party’s election race disqualification.

Their main claim is that Chikli and Likud had relied on an agreement supported by the Jerusalem District Court that ruled him eligible to run with the party.

The rebel politician pulled an appeal against his ouster from Yamina in July, after the Jerusalem court encouraged a compromise whereby he would resign his Knesset seat in exchange for not being sanctioned and barred from running with another, existing Knesset party in the next elections.

MK Amichai Chikli arrives at the Jerusalem District Court, for his appeal against his designation as a defector, July 10, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90)

Although Chikli only entered the Knesset in 2021 with Yamina, he quickly made a splash by breaking from the party in protest over the big tent government it was forming. In doing so, Chikli became a symbol of right-wing opposition to the now-outgoing government.

Netanyahu handpicked Chikli to fill one of his discretionary spots on Likud’s list. Sitting in the 14th slot in a party polling in the low 30s, Chikli was set to easily reenter Knesset.

A second Yamina defector, Idit Silman, was also given a realistic reserved spot on Likud’s roster. The Central Elections Committee rejected petitions to disqualify Silman, and her candidacy is still active. The High Court on Sunday also rejected a petition to bar her.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu poses with candidates he added to the Likud Knesset slate: (from left) Yossi Fuchs, Tsega Melaku, Idit Silman, Moshe Saada, and Amichai Chikli, September 14, 2022. (Courtesy)

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