Yisrael Beytenu petitions to disqualify Balad party chief from running in election

Sami Abou Shehadeh’s party dismisses ‘attempt to silence’ him; Netanyahu-led bloc seen as unlikely to back move, preferring Balad have a chance to fall below electoral threshold

Members of the Balad party register their list for the upcoming elections at the Knesset on September 15, 2022. Party leader Sami Abou Shahadeh is at second from right. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Balad party register their list for the upcoming elections at the Knesset on September 15, 2022. Party leader Sami Abou Shahadeh is at second from right. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu on Sunday filed a petition with the Central Elections Committee, in an initial move to seek the disqualification of Balad leader Sami Abou Shehadeh from running in the November 1 election.

The letter asked members of the committee to put their names to the petition against Abou Shehadesh. A formal request for the disqualification would require the approval of at least a third of the 34 members of the election committee.

In a statement, Yisrael Beytenu said that Abou Shahadeh “must be outside of the Israeli Knesset. One who denies the existence of the State of Israel and does not recognize it as a Jewish and democratic state is not worthy of being part of [the Knesset] — it is fitting for him to be part of the parliament in Ramallah, that’s his place.”

The request was submitted under Article 7A of the Basic Law of the Knesset, which states that the candidacy of a member of the Knesset must be disqualified if their actions or statements have the effect of denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting racism, or supporting an armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel.

The petition was initially signed by Yisrael Beytenu’s representatives on the Central Elections Committee — MK Limor Magen Telem and Roman Gervitz.

The chair of the Meretz faction, Knesset member Michal Rozin, has already said her party would oppose this request.

Responding to the petition, Balad said it was “an attempt to silence the uncompromising political voice” of Abou Shehadeh.

Abou Shahadeh told Army Radio that he believed Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beytenu, made the move to attract headlines as his own right-wing party hovers near the electoral threshold, according to recent polling.

“I’m not interested in this violent man [Liberman], who supports transferring [Arab citizens out of Israel]… Liberman is not far from the electoral threshold and therefore is trying to attract extremist voters,” Abou Shahadeh said.

Balad split off from Hadash and Ta’al, the other two parties making up the Joint List, on Thursday, in a move that threatens to upend the political status quo ahead of the November 1 elections.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman arrives for cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The impact of the move remains unclear. On the one hand, the splintering of Arab representatives has been proven over the years to bring down Arab turnout, which is already expected to plummet to record lows for the long-underrepresented minority. However, in the unlikely event of Balad, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am all managing to cross the threshold, they could deal a major blow to Netanyahu’s chances of forming a narrow right-wing government.

In several previous races, Likud petitioned the Central Elections Committee to have Balad members and the party as a whole disqualified, arguing that the Arab nationalist, anti-Zionist faction and its representatives incite terrorism. In each of those cases, though, the High Court of Justice ruled against Likud and other right-wing allies who filed the petitions.

However, a senior official in the pro-Netanyahu bloc of parties told the Ynet news site on Friday that the Likud chairman now prefers for Balad to be allowed to run so that it can further splinter the Arab electorate and waste the votes of those who choose to back Balad if, as expected, it fails to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the national vote.

This time around, Netanyahu will work behind the scenes to ensure that no one from his right-wing, religious bloc files a petition to disqualify Balad, the senior official told Ynet.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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