Rebel Chikli, Arab Balad head to Supreme Court to battle election disqualifications

Would-be Likud candidate Chikli charges election panel head could falsify election results; Balad chief says his faction will run until the end after reportedly mulling quitting

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)
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)

Renegade lawmaker Amichai Chikli turned to the Supreme Court Friday to overturn an election vetting panel’s decision to disqualify him from running in upcoming Knesset elections.

Arab nationalist party Balad said it would also appeal the Central Elections Committee’s decision to disqualify it from running in the November 1 vote, faction leader Sami Abou Shehadeh said.

Both moves had been widely expected, though Balad had reportedly flirted with forgoing a supreme court petition and boycotting the vote instead.

Chikli, who entered the Knesset last year with Yamina but is now seeking to run with the Likud party, was disqualified on Wednesday after the left-wing Meretz party filed a petition claiming that he violated election bylaws designed to keep MKs voted in by one party from jumping ship to another party mid-term.

Chikli, had been placed by Netanyahu in 14th place on Likud’s electoral slate, entered the Knesset last year with Yamina, but refused to vote in favor of the big tent coalition it enabled and led, and was later ejected from the faction.

Meretz claimed that he did not resign in a timely manner after leaving Yamina, as required.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party’s request to declare him a ‘defector,’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud had said it would petition the Supreme Court to overturn the election panel decision, a standard practice. The Supreme Court has a history of overturning such decisions in most cases.

Chikli had described the decision to disqualify him as “an unparalleled injustice.” On Friday, he told the Kan broadcaster that he feared the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman, would falsify election results if there was no clear winner.

“The head of the Central Elections Committee has proven that he is politically biased,” he said.

Meanwhile, Balad head Abou Shehadeh vowed his party would run until the end and “surprise everyone,” accusing Defense Minister Benny Gantz of “attempting to engineer an Arab leadership according to his standards.”

The Central Elections Committee, which is made up of representatives of current Knesset parties, accepted a petition on Thursday that alleged the party undermines Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Balad and several of its lawmakers have been disqualified by past elections panels, and have so far won every appeal to the Supreme Court to be reinstated.

The petition had been backed by Gantz’s National Unity party, while most other parties abstained from voting on it.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Thursday that there was no basis for disqualifying either Balad or the Islamist Ra’am party. The panel ultimately allowed Ra’am to run at the elections, dismissing petitions that alleged the party supported terrorist organizations.

Balad is not expected to cross the 3.25% electoral threshold to enter the next Knesset. If it indeed does not, the party might take a significant number of Arab votes with them, which could play a potentially key role in the predicted deadlock between rival political blocs in favor of the right wing-religious bloc led by Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu. That possibility pushed political stakeholders to reconsider their approaches to Balad’s candidacy.

Whereas in the past Balad’s run has been opposed by right-wing parties, Abou Shehadah accused Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Gantz — whose centrist parties are presumably poised to gain from Balad’s ouster — as engineering the takedown.

Director of the Elections Committee of the Knesset, Orly Adas (third right), Yitzhak Amit (center), Chairman of the Election Committee and Attorney Ilan Bombach (second right), Vice Chairman of the Election Committee at the Election committee meeting, during a discussion on the disqualifying of the Ra’am party from running in the upcoming Israeli elections, at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, September 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Before the panel convened, Gantz released a statement saying that his party’s representatives on the committee would vote to disqualify Balad, accusing the faction of operating “in extremes against the state.”

The Likud party, meanwhile, boycotted the Central Elections Committee’s hearings on Ra’am and Balad, calling the matter a “political circus” geared toward harming its right-wing bloc.

Meretz MK Gaby Lasky accused Likud, which has in the past petitioned both the Central Elections Committee and the Supreme Court to disqualify Balad, of changing its position for political expedience.

Meretz also petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday morning over the Central Election Committee’s decision not to disqualify former coalition whip and Yamina MK Idit Silman, who has sought to run with Likud ahead of the next elections.

The left-wing party had argued that Silman, like Chikli, did not resign before the necessary deadline after leaving Yamina, and is therefore disqualified from joining the Likud party, according to Basic Law: The Knesset, section 6a. The committee disagreed, however, and rejected the petition.

Silman abruptly quit the political alliance led by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett in April, resigning both her position as coalition whip and depriving the coalition she had worked to uphold up until then of its Knesset majority. Silman’s resignation threw the Knesset into a three-month tailspin that culminated in the calling of snap elections.

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