Top court rejects appeal to bar Yamina rebel Idit Silman from Likud slate

Justices also hear appeal on disqualification of Amichai Chikli, as well as of the Balad party

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Member of the Likud party Idit Silman at Kikar HaShabbat conference in the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Member of the Likud party Idit Silman at Kikar HaShabbat conference in the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal to have former Yamina MK Idit Silman disqualified from standing for the Knesset for the Likud party.

The justices expressed a dim view of the appeal filed by the Meretz party and the Movement for Quality Government (MQG) during the session.

Meretz eventually retracted its appeal on the recommendation of the justices, although MQG insisted on receiving a ruling on the appeal, which the court ultimately rejected.

Meretz and MQG had sought to have Silman disqualified due to media reports that she had come to an agreement with the Likud party to bolt the coalition in return for a guaranteed spot on its party slate for the upcoming elections.

Silman quit the coalition in April this year which deprived the ruling bloc of its majority and eventually led to the government’s collapse two months later. Likud leader opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu did subsequently give Silman a reserved spot on his party’s list.

Section 57a of the Law for Elections to the Knesset prohibits such agreements if they are made less than 90 days before an election.

Eliad Shraga, Lawyer and founder of the Movement for the Quality of Government, arrives for a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on the election committee decision to not disqualify Likud party member Idit Silman from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In its own decision to reject the petition last week, the Central Elections Committee noted that the law does not determine any sanctions for such actions.

The Supreme Court justices on Thursday opined that disqualifying Silman from running would unduly violate her right to be elected.

They also took issue with Meretz’s right to request Silman be disqualified, since the Knesset faction to which she belongs, Yamina, had not itself made such a request.

Justice Noam Sohlberg argued that absent a disqualification request by Yamina, the court would be making an overtly political intervention if it were to overturn the Central Election Committee’s decision.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut (C) and fellow justices arrive for a hearing on the election committee decision to disqualify Balad from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Jonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite the objections of the judges, MQG attorney Eliad Shraga argued defiantly that the reserved spot Silman received on the Likud list so soon after quitting Yamina was detrimental to Israel’s parliamentary and party-based democratic system.

“Everything is legal, but you can’t close your eyes and not see how this erodes our political system,” he argued.

Hayut said she agreed with him in principle but that the law did not provide for disqualifying Silman under the existing circumstances.

Later in the day, the court also held hearings on similar efforts to disqualify another former Yamina MK, Amichai Chikli, along with the entire Arab nationalist Balad slate.

Likud party member Amichai Chikli arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on the election committee decision to disqualify him from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chikli’s chances are not expected to be as strong as Silman’s as the Central Elections Committee ruled against allowing him to run last week, deeming his resignation from the Knesset as having come too long after his decision to bolt the coalition. Like Silman, Chikli has also been reserved a realistic spot on the Likud list.

Chikli and Likud have decried the CEC disqualification as a miscarriage of justice, writing in their Supreme Court petition that “the injustice caused to former MK Chikli screams to the heavens.”

Netanyahu said that if elected premier, he would use his discretion to make Chikli a minister if the Supreme Court rejects Likud’s petition.

During Thursday’s hearing, the lawyer representing Chikli and Likud apologized on their behalf for some of the strong remarks made against the election committee judge who ruled against them last week. The move appeared to be intended to win favor from Isaac Amit’s colleagues before they make a final decision, which is expected on Sunday.

Head of the Balad party MK Sami Abou Shahadeh and party members arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court on the election committee decision to disqualify their party from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The court also heard Balad’s petition against the election committee’s decision to disqualify the party and appeared set to rule in its favor.

The judges chastised the state along with those parties which sought Balad’s disqualification, arguing that they barely provided any evidence. The lawyer from the Attorney General’s office acknowledged that the evidence was thinner than previous petitions against the party but noted that the situation is more serious this time as Balad is running on its own, rather than as part of a joint slate of several Arab-majority parties.

The panel didn’t appear convinced, adding that the bar to disqualify an entire party is very high in a democratic country and that while Balad does sometimes push the envelope with its historic support for ending Israel’s status as a primarily Jewish state, its recent conduct does not appear to be enough to warrant a ban.

A final decision on the matter is also expected in the coming days.

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