Supreme Court nixes disqualification of Arab Labor candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana

In 8-1 ruling, judges say there is ‘no sufficient evidentiary basis’ to ban Mara’ana from running in March 23 elections over her controversial comments

Labor Party member Ibtisam Mara'ana at a Supreme Court hearing in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor Party member Ibtisam Mara'ana at a Supreme Court hearing in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Sunday ruled Labor party candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana is eligible to run in the upcoming elections, overturning a decision by the Central Elections Committee barring her candidacy over past remarks criticized by some as anti-Zionist.

The judges voted 8-1 to allow Mara’ana to run, with only Justice David Mintz dissenting.

“The court determined that although Mara’ana’s comments as presented in the motion to disqualify her were outrageous, no sufficient evidentiary basis was presented — quantitatively or qualitatively — that justifies the disqualification of Mara’ana for any of the reasons on which the Central Elections Committee [decision] was based,” the judges wrote in the ruling.

In his dissent, Mintz cited comments Mara’ana made in a 2008 interview calling to destroy the northern town of Zichron Yaakov, saying the remark was an “explicit call to destroy the people in it.” He also criticized her apology as “weak” and said there was no evidence she no longer “supports these improper goals.”

Mara’ana hailed the court decision.

“Let’s get to work for democracy, women, Jewish-Arab cooperation, human rights, without distinction between gender, nationality or sexual orientation,” she wrote on Facebook.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of the petitions to disqualify Mara’ana was filed by the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which is running as part of the Religious Zionism slate in the March 23 elections. Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of Otzma Yehudit, assailed the court over the ruling.

“The court again proves that it is incapable of disqualifying a terror supporter,” Ben Gvir said in a video statement.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a longtime critic of the Supreme Court, also lashed out at the justices.

“The Supreme Court again failed ethically and morally to defend the most basic values of the State of Israel,” Levin wrote on Facebook. “This is further proof that the courts need fundamental change and comprehensive reform, first and foremost in the method of selecting judges.”

The court has previously overturned Central Elections Committee decisions to disqualify candidates, most recently ruling against a ban on Joint List MK Heba Yazbak that was based on her sharing of social media posts appearing to praise terrorists.

The petitions calling for Mara’ana’s removal from the Labor slate cited her past declaration that she had deliberately ignored an annual two minutes of silence held on Memorial Day, which honors Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims, as well as other comments that the petitioners deemed anti-Zionist or supportive of terrorism.

Director Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin at a screening of a 2017 documentary film which she produced (courtesy)

According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, a slate or individual candidate can be disqualified if their goals or actions, either explicitly or implicitly, deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or support an armed struggle of an enemy state or terrorist organization.

The chief controversy surrounding Mara’ana stemmed from a 2012 social media post in which she wrote proudly that she had continued to drive her car as the annual memorial siren sounded. The majority of drivers in Israel stop during the siren and stand by their vehicle.

Speaking to Channel 12 earlier this month, Mara’ana said she had written the post a long time ago, and added that she now honors the siren when outdoors. She said she would not write the same thing today.

People stand still in Jerusalem as a siren is sounded on Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and terror victims, May 8, 2019. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

She also apologized for hurting the feelings of “a mother, father, brother or sister who lost their daughter or son — it doesn’t matter what the reasons are.”

Still, Mara’ana claimed the outcry against her was due to a double standard regarding the country’s Arab population. “If I were not an Arab, would I be facing what I am facing?” she asked. “Would they call me a terrorist?”

Mara’ana, a documentary filmmaker, hails from a northern Arab Israeli town but identifies as Palestinian. She is married to a Jewish Israeli.

When the elections committee banned Mara’ana, Labor head Merav Michaeli asserted that the efforts to disqualify her were part of a program of incitement against her, similar to the things said about prime minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination in 1995.

Otzma Yehudit has itself been the subject of disqualification efforts in the past. Ben Gvir infamously had a photo of the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein, hanging in his home. Ben Gvir has defended the photo, saying he keeps it up out of respect for Goldstein, who saved many Jewish lives as a doctor, before he entered Hebron’s Tomb of Patriarchs and shot dead 29 Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others.

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