Knesset panel bans Arab Labor candidate over Memorial Day comments

Decision against Ibtisam Mara’ana widely expected to be overturned by Supreme Court; party chief Michaeli compares her treatment to incitement against Rabin prior to assassination

Labor party member Ibtisam Mara'ana seen during a first meeting of the Labor party with new elected members in Tel Aviv, on February 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Labor party member Ibtisam Mara'ana seen during a first meeting of the Labor party with new elected members in Tel Aviv, on February 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In a move widely expected to be overturned by the Supreme Court, the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday voted to ban Labor’s No. 7 candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana from running in the upcoming election over her past controversial comments about Memorial Day and other statements that her critics have deemed anti-Zionist.

Two petitions had been filed against Mara’ana: one by Labor member Maozia Segal, an IDF veteran who was badly injured during his service, and backed by other party members as well as the right-wing Likud, New Hope and Religious Zionism parties; and the second by the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

Segal told the Kan public broadcaster that his petition was submitted “out of a deep belief that a citizen who speaks in public, as Mara’ana did, cannot be in the Knesset on behalf of the Labor party, of which I am a member.”

Segal said it caused him “great sadness” that his petition was heard alongside that of the extremist right-wing party, because the latter petition was politically motivated and “the philosophy of Otzma Yehudit is very far” from that of Labor.

Labor party MK Merav Michaeli at a cultural event in Kfar Saba, February 2, 2019. (Flash90)

Labor head Merav Michaeli slammed the decision, saying that Mara’ana had already apologized for the comments. She asserted that the efforts to disqualify Mara’ana were part of a program of incitement against her, similar to the things said about prime minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination in 1995.

“We are continuing the same campaign of incitement that began in 1993 against Rabin to this very moment. There is no difference between what was done to her and what was done to Rabin,” Michaeli told Army Radio.

The case will now go to the Supreme Court, which has been known to overturn decisions to disqualify candidates, most recently ruling against a ban on Joint List MK Heba Yazbak based on her sharing of social media posts appearing to praise terrorists.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued an opinion Tuesday opposing a potential ban on Mara’ana, saying that after reviewing her statements, some of which she has apologized for, he does not believe they pass the threshold determined by the law to justify preventing her from running.

Director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin at a screening of a 2017 documentary film which she produced (courtesy)

According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, a slate or individual candidate can be disqualified if their goals or actions, either explicitly or implicitly, deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or support an armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization.

The petitions called for Mara’ana’s removal from the Labor slate for declaring in the past that she had deliberately ignored an annual two minutes of silence held on Memorial Day, which honors Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims, as well as other comments that the petitioners deemed anti-Zionist or supportive of terrorism.

The chief controversy stems from a 2012 social media post by Mara’ana in which she wrote that she had continued to drive her car as the annual memorial siren sounded. The majority of drivers in Israel stop during the siren and stand by their vehicle.

Speaking to Channel 12 Saturday, Mara’ana said she had written the post a long time ago, and added that she now honors the siren when outdoors. She said she would not write the same thing today.

She also apologized for hurting the feelings of “a mother, father, brother or sister who lost their daughter or son — it doesn’t matter what the reasons are.”

Still, Mara’ana claimed the outcry against her was due to a double standard regarding the country’s Arab population. “If I were not an Arab, would I be facing what I am facing?” she asked. “Would they call me a terrorist?”

The photo of mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein hung in the home of Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

The extreme-right Otzma Yehudit, which filed one of the petitions against Mara’ana, has itself been the subject of disqualification efforts in the past. Its leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, infamously had a photo of the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein, hanging in his home. Ben Gvir has defended the photo, saying he keeps it up out of respect for Goldstein, who saved many Jewish lives as a doctor, before he entered Hebron’s Tomb of Patriarchs and shot dead 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others.

Mara’ana, a documentary filmmaker, hails from a northern Arab Israeli town but identifies as Palestinian. She is married to a Jewish Israeli.

Also on Wednesday, answering a separate petition submitted by Otzma Yehudit, the Likud party said it would not participate in the debate to potentially disqualify the predominantly Arab Joint List party and its breakaway Ra’am faction. The petition was eventually rejected with 15 votes against it, three in favor and two abstentions.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi at a Knesset committee meeting on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The Arab citizens of Israel already know that the Arab [parties] do not represent them… The Arab citizens of Israel are tired of those who do not care for them and they already understand that the Likud [party] led by Netanyahu is the one that maintains the security and well-being of all Israeli citizens,” said Likud MK and election committee member Shlomo Karhi, explaining his party’s position ahead of the debate and vote.

The split in the Joint List was stoked by Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, who publicly pursued closer ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a move seen by his former colleagues as unacceptable.

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