Police said to mull probe of Otzma Yehudit’s Ben Ari for inciting racism

Law enforcement reportedly expected to file recommendation in coming week; far-right party accuses AG of seeking to sway election

Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari attends a Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset on March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari attends a Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset on March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Police and state prosecutors are considering opening an investigation into Otzma Yehudit party leader Michael Ben Ari for racist incitement, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday.

Officials involved in the review of Ben Ari’s conduct were expected to file a report in the coming weeks, which will lead to a decision on whether to pursue the case, the report said.

In response, Otzma Yehudit said Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan were seeking to “influence Israel’s election process and tarnish Dr. Ben Ari’s character” and called for such attempts to be “rejected outright.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Central Elections Committee narrowly struck down motions to disqualify Ben Ari from running in the April elections on the grounds he incited racism against Arabs.

The petitions against both Ben Ari and the party’s second representative, Itamar Ben Gvir, were struck down 16 to 15 by the election oversight committee.

Otzma Yehudit candidate Itamar Ben Gvir attempts to hand Labor MK Stav Shaffir a notice of a libel lawsuit against her for allegedly calling his party ‘Nazis,’ at a meeting of the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset on March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The motion to have Ben Ari disqualified over his conduct was backed by Mandelblit, who on Tuesday cited comments by Ben Ari on social media describing Arabs as a “murderous people” who understand “only force.”

Ben Ari is fifth on the slate of the Union of Right Wing Parties, a merger of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) with the Jewish Home and National Union parties. Ben Gvir is eighth on the joint ticket.

Ben Ari slammed Mandelblit as “politicized and domineering,” calling his Tuesday opinion “sloppy,” and claimed he had “taken my words out of context.”

The elections committee this week also approved the controversial merger of Otzma Yehudit and Jewish Home in the Union of Right Wing Parties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck an election deal last month that would ensure members of Otzma Yehudit a Knesset seat in an effort to unite Israel’s hard-line nationalist and religious bloc ahead of the elections.

Meretz party leader MK Tamar Zandberg at Meretz primaries in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu’s move has been widely criticized in Israel, and has even drawn scorn from pro-Israel American Jewish organizations, such as AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee. Both groups have called Otzma Yehudit “reprehensible.”

Tamar Zandberg, head of the opposition Meretz party, which helped spearhead the petition to disqualify Ben Ari, said after Wednesday’s hearing that Meretz would appeal the committee’s decision to the Supreme Court.

read more: