Otzma Yehudit to petition to stop Lapid from running in election due to ‘racism’
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Otzma Yehudit to petition to stop Lapid from running in election due to ‘racism’

Blue and White No. 2 says it’s ‘an honor’ that fans of Hebron massacre perpetrator Baruch Goldstein want him disqualified

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, December 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, December 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party announced Wednesday that it will file a petition with the Central Election Commission to have Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid disqualified from the September elections due to his comments about the ultra-Orthodox community.

According to the request for disqualification, Lapid’s statements and actions vis a vis the ultra-Orthodox commumity contravene the penal code’s definition of racism.

The Haredi community and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed outrage Monday after Lapid tweeted a satirical campaign video portraying senior ultra-Orthodox politicians as venal and corrupt, demanding large sums of money in exchange for pledging loyalty Netanyahu. The premier accused Lapid of “anti-Semitism” over the video.

The clip, which poked fun at the Likud party for forcing its candidates in the upcoming elections to sign loyalty oaths, portrayed a fictional group chat in popular messaging service WhatsApp in which the leaders of several small parties are asked to swear to support the candidacy of “Benjamin Netanyahu, the first of his name, messenger of God, leader of the right and father of dragons.”

Lapid responded to Otzma Yehudit’s announcement of the petition, saying “fans of the killer Baruch Goldstein want to disqualify me from running for election ‘because of racism. It is an honor for me. I have not received such reinforcement for a long time.”

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir has come under attack for having a photo in his office of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 in Hebron in 1994.

Itamar Ben Gvir holds a press conference with family members of Yehuda and Tamar Kaduri, who were found dead in their home in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, on January 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s Likud party is attempting to broker an agreement between all the political parties not to file court petitions against individual candidates in the upcoming Knesset elections, a move slammed Monday by the Blue and White party as an attempt to shield the far-right Otzma Yehudit.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice barred Otzma Yehudit’s previous leader, Michael Ben Ari, from running in the April elections, saying allowing him to seek a Knesset seat would legitimize his anti-Arab ideology and incitement to racism. That decision came after the Central Elections Committee, which is made up of parties from the outgoing Knesset and a Supreme Court justice, narrowly approved Ben Ari’s candidacy. It was the first time in Israel’s history that an individual, rather than a party, was disqualified from running for Knesset.

Regarding Ben Gvir, who replaced Ben Ari as leader, the justices said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to prevent him from running.

The Central Elections Committee has several times barred nationalist Arab party Balad — now part of the Joint List alliance — as well as members of other Arab-majority parties, citing incitement, but the High Court later approved their candidacies.

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari (L), and Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speak during a press conference held in response to the High Court decision to disqualify Ben Ari’s candidacy for the upcoming Knesset elections, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday, Likud MK and staunch Netanyahu loyalist David Bitan told the Kan public broadcaster that he was attempting to reach a broad consensus that parties refrain from filing such petitions again ahead of the September vote.

He claimed that because the previous elections in April were so recent and the High Court has already voiced its opinion on the matter, there is no need to go through the process again.

Bitan said that while several other parties had agreed, if one of them refuses and tries to disqualify a candidate, Likud would also file such petitions.

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid at the opening session of the new Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

But the initiative appeared to be doomed from the start, as Lapid immediately told Kan that he would torpedo it, claiming it was designed to protect Otzma Yehudit, whom Netanyahu had personally been pushing to join forces with other religious right-wing parties.

While those efforts succeeded ahead of the April elections, when Otzma was part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, this time around negotiations collapsed despite the premier’s efforts, and Otzma is running alone, with little chance of clearing the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and making it into the parliament.

“This is just an attempt to legitimize the gang of Baruch Goldstein followers whom they are trying to bring into the Knesset and the government,” Lapid said. “This group and Balad’s group should not be in the Knesset.”

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