Far-right politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben Ari at a Supreme Court hearing, on March 14, 2019.AFP
The court reversed the Knesset election committee’s decision, which had approved Michael Ben Ari and disqualified Balad-United Arab List and Hadash’s Ofer Cassif First time in Israeli history candidate, not list, is banned. Israel’s Supreme Court banned on Sunday Kahanist leader Michael Ben Ari from running in the April 9 general election and reversed the disqualification of Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of political alliance Hadash-Ta’al.
Earlier this month, the Central Election Committee disqualified the Balad-United Arab List and Cassif, opposing the opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. That same day, a petition against Ben Ari, the chairman of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, failed to pass the committee, which approved him to run in the election. A ban against a party slate may be appealed in the Supreme Court, which holds a special “election appeals” process, while a ban on an individual candidate automatically requires approval by the Supreme Court before taking effect. Prior to the Knesset deliberations, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit submitted his opinion to the comittee, stating he was in favor of disqualifying Ben Ari from running for Knesset on the grounds of incitement to racism.
Meretz, Stav Shaffir (Labor) and the Reform Movement filed the petition to the Central Elections Committee to ban Ben Ari from running for Knesset and filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against the committee’s decision. The High Court discussed petitions against Ben Ari’s qualification to run on Thursday. In November 2017, at an annual memorial for Rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben Ari gave a speech in which he said of Israeli Arabs, “Let’s give them another 100,000 dunams [of land] and affirmative action, maybe they’ll love us. In the end, yes, they’ll love us when we’re slaughtered.”
In May 2018, Ben Ari gave another speech in which he said, “The Arabs of Haifa aren’t different in any way from the Arabs of Gaza.
How are they different? In that they’re here, enemies from within. They’re waging war against us here, within the state. And this is called – it has a name – it’s called a fifth column. We need to call the dog by its name. They’re our enemies. They want to destroy us. Of course there are loyal Arabs, but you can count them – one percent or less than one percent.”
Mendelblit told the High Court of Justice during the discussion last week on Tuesday that there was no cause to disqualify Cassif from running, writing that the “critical mass of evidence” required for a candidate’s disqualification was not present. Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the Kahanist, far-right Otzma Yehudit party had petitioned against both lists.
MK David Bitan had petitioned on behalf of Likud against Balad-United Arab List, and Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman petitioned against Cassif. Petitioners claimed both lists and Cassif supported terror and ruled out Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state. Mendelblit said he opposed all the petitions. Cassif was accused of equating Israel and the Israel Defense Forces with the Nazi regime, and it was noted that he called to fight “Judeo-Nazism,” expressed support for changing the anthem,
and called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “Neo-Nazi scum.” He did not attend the session, but was called after committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer insisted on his presence. “I come from an academic background, and my area of expertise is among other things the subject of Fascism, Nazis and nationalism in general,” said Cassif, explaining his comments. “When I speak to a friend or write a post as a private person, I use metaphors. When I used the aforementioned terms – they were metaphors.”
In an interview last month, Cassif said Israel conducts a “creeping genocide” against the Palestinian people.