Likud MK’s bill would give coalition power to ban political parties

Legislation seen as potential attempt to bar Arab parties from running; Nissim Vaturi asserts he submitted it only to expose hypocrisy of opposition, but has yet to withdraw it

Coalition lawmakers crowd around Justice Minister Yariv Levin to take a celebratory selfie in the Knesset plenum, as they pass the first of the coalition's judicial overhaul laws, the so-called "reasonableness law", on July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Coalition lawmakers crowd around Justice Minister Yariv Levin to take a celebratory selfie in the Knesset plenum, as they pass the first of the coalition's judicial overhaul laws, the so-called "reasonableness law", on July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset recently registered a bill drafted by a rabble-rousing Likud MK that would bar the Supreme Court from overruling decisions by the Central Elections Committee to disqualify candidates, or entire parties, from appearing on the ballot.

With the ruling coalition habitually controlling the CEC, the bill would effectively give the ruling bloc control over which parties can run in elections.

The bill submitted by Likud MK Nissim Vaturi states that the current law grants “absolute power” to the top court, which “neuters” the Central Elections Committee, the panel headed by a High Court justice but otherwise made up of representatives from the various political parties.

Given Vaturi’s longstanding criticism of Israel’s Arab lawmakers and warm ties to the Otzma Yehudit party, it is widely understood that his bill is aimed at disqualifying Arab-majority parties from running in elections. Right-wing lawmakers, including some in the opposition, have long sparred with the Arab parties in the Knesset, taking particular issue with their allegiance to the broader Palestinian national cause.

However, the sweeping nature of Vaturi’s legislation would remove the only remaining check on the coalition to bar whichever party it opposes from running in elections.

Amid uproar on Friday, Vaturi tweeted that he had only submitted the legislation to expose the hypocrisy of the opposition, given that the latter bloc’s right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party had introduced virtually the same bill in 2016.

However, Vaturi has yet to withdraw his bill, nor did he say that he planned to do so.

During every election campaign, the panel adjudicates petitions filed by the various parties, which regularly include requests to disqualify candidates or parties over allegations that they have incited terrorism.

The Central Elections Committee has accepted a large number of these petitions in the past, which would have barred a handful of Arab Israeli candidates and entire Arab-majority slates as well as several ultra-nationalist Jewish candidates from being able to participate in elections — if not for subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court to overturn those decisions.

In the November 2022 election, the committee — — whose political makeup is proportional to that of the Knesset’s — voted to disqualify the Arab nationalist Balad party, only to have the decision overturned by the Supreme Court. Balad ran in the election but failed to cross the electoral threshold.

Other times though, the court has ruled in favor of petitions to disqualify candidates, as it did in 2019 when it barred Benzi Gopstein, Baruch Marzel, and Michael Ben Ari from running on the far-right Otzma Yehudit party’s electoral list, on grounds that they’ve incited racism against Arabs.

Balad party head Sami Abu Shehadeh speaks at an Central Elections Committee meeting against disqualifying Balad from running in the upcoming elections, September 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

At the same time, the court tossed out petitions aimed at disqualifying the entire party as well as its current leader Itamar Ben Gvir in particular from running. Ben Gvir currently serves as national security minister.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party presents his party list to the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Vaturi’s bill was one of several that were submitted months ago but only recently were registered by the Knesset in a largely bureaucratic step that readies them for a preliminary vote.

Another such bill was one submitted by Likud backbencher Eli Dallal aimed at splitting the position of the attorney general, which caused a massive uproar on Wednesday. By Thursday, Dallal said he would withdraw the legislation, though such a move would require agreement from all of the bill’s 10 coalition co-sponsors.

Vaturi is one of the Knesset’s most right-wing lawmakers and has sparked outcry in recent months over a series of comments he has made to the media.

He claimed some parents deliberately decide to make their children gay, by giving them dolls to play with. He blasted the Biden administration for “interfering” in Israel’s affairs amid Washington’s opposition to the government’s judicial overhaul; declared that Israel can defend itself without military aid from the US; and said that the Jewish state is “probably a bit more democratic that the system there.”

As deputy Knesset speaker, Vaturi booted an Arab Israeli lawmaker in the middle of his address to the plenum in violation of protocol and in defiance of warnings from the Knesset’s legal adviser.

Vaturi also appeared to suggest that he supported executing Israeli Air Force reserve pilots who threatened to skip training in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul plans.

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