Likud joins far-right appeal to bar Arab parties from running in election

9 members of ruling party, among them Netanyahu loyalist David Bitan, team up with Otzma Yehudit; Supreme Court expected to dismiss plea

Otzma Yehudit's Itamar Ben Gvir (L) argues with Arab Israeli candidate Ata Abu Madighem after a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 14, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
Otzma Yehudit's Itamar Ben Gvir (L) argues with Arab Israeli candidate Ata Abu Madighem after a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 14, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Tuesday joined an extremist faction’s legal bid to ban the Joint (Arab) List from running in the upcoming elections.

The appeal to the Supreme Court, which was filed by Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, accuses the Joint List of incitement to terrorism, supporting a terror group, and denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

Under Israeli law, parties or candidates can be disqualified from an election race for denying the country’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state; incitement to racism; and supporting armed action by a hostile state or terror group against Israel.

Joining the petition were nine Likud representatives on the Central Elections Committee, among them MK David Bitan, a close political ally of Netanyahu.

“Whoever supports the murder of babies needs to be in prison, not the Knesset,” Ben Gvir wrote on his Twitter account, referring to Arab Israeli politicians.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to disqualify the Joint List when it meets Thursday to hear appeals, having previously thrown out petitions to bar Arab parties and politicians from running for the Knesset.

Likud MK David Bittan attends a Central Elections Committee hearing at the Knesset on a petition to disqualify Itamar Ben Gvir and Michael Ben Ari of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party from running in the elections, at the Knesset, March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Likud members joining the appeal drew a sharp rebuke from Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman.

“Likud finally decided it wants a Knesset free of Arabs,” she tweeted. “This is a historic low when the ruling party wants a Knesset [based] on the purity of the Jewish race.”

The Joint List is made up of the Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad parties, the latter of which was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee before elections in April, a decision eventually overturned by the Supreme Court.

Also Thursday, the Supreme Court is set to debate whether to bar Otzma Yehudit candidates Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein from running in the September 17 vote.

Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late rabbi Meir 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.

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has argued for Marzel and Gopstein to be barred from running, saying their long record of virulent racist statements against Arabs was grounds for disqualification under Israel’s anti-racism laws, but said there were no grounds to bar Ben Gvir or the entire party from the race.

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

The party ran last time together with the Union of Right-Wing Parties as part of a much criticized merger deal pushed for by Netanyahu, who argued Otzma Yehudit’s right-wing votes would be wasted if it failed to enter the Knesset.

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