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Kahane in, Arabs out: Israeli election panel disqualifies Palestinian party calling for equality, approves racist Jewish Power leader

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Just hours after chairman of the far right Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power” party, Michael Ben-Ari was approved by Israel’s Central Election Committee to run for the Knesset on Wednesday, the same committee disqualified the joint Arab slate Balad-United Arab List from running.

The decisions were made despite recommendations from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who said Ben-Ari should be disqualified, while the Balad-UAL list should be allowed to run. It is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In addition to the disqualification of Balad-UAL, the committee ruled to prevent the candidacy of Ofer Cassif, a Jewish representative in Hadash-Ta’al, a second Arab list that is still on the ballot. The claim against Cassif was that he “denied the existence of Israel as a Jewish state”, and in the case of UAL-Balad it also included “supporting terror” (Haaretz, Hebrew).

Ben-Ari, who once said that those who speak against Jews should be killed, petitioned against both Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-UAL. MK David Bitan also petitioned on behalf of Likud against Balad-UAL, while Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman petitioned against Cassif. The petitioners claimed both lists and Cassif supported terror and ruled out Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state. Mandelblit said he opposed all the petitions.

It is important to note these allegations should not be taken seriously. If they were serious, Mandelblit would support them. Instead they should be seen as a punishment for calling for a  “just, democratic equal” state, as Cassif explicitly does.

Prior to the committees decisions, Mandelblit had voiced his opposition to the petitions against Cassif, instead saying that Ben-Ari should be banned from running on the grounds of incitement and racism.

The accusations against Cassif and Balad-UAL of “support for terror” seemed to be ‘substantiated’ by Avigdor Lieberman, who said:

Whoever says that the Chief of Staff is a war criminal and that Israel is committing ethnic cleansing in the Gaza strip, must not sit in the Israeli Knesset. His place is together with the rest of the Knesset terror supporters, in the parliament of Hamas in the Gaza strip or in the Iranian Majles in Tehran.

Lieberman expressed a clear expectation that the Supreme Court would not interfere in the decision.

Prime Minister Netanyahu added:

Whoever supports terror will not be in the Israeli Knesset.

The usage of the word “terror” doesn’t have to be factual, it can be completely selective.

Netanyahu knows how to whitewash terror, when it’s Jewish. In 2006, the 70th anniversary of the King David Hotel bombing which killed 91, he unveiled a plaque hailing the Irgun terrorist bombers, at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. They are simply regarded as “Irgun fighters”. Netanyahu marked the difference between “us” and “them” (the terrorists): “The difference is expressed in the fact that the terrorists intend to harm civilians whereas legitimate combatants try to avoid that”.

UAL-Balad responded to the news, saying that the decision to disqualify them was “populist and racist, intended to hurt the representation of the Arab citizens”:

It is clear to us that a panel consisting of racist parties who do not wish to see Arabs in the Knesset, will work towards our disqualification. UAL-Balad presents a democratic platform and works towards the promotion of equal rights for all citizens.   

The chairman of Hadash-Ta’al, Ayman Odeh responded to the news about Cassif’s disqualification:

Ofer Cassif, who champions equality and presents a clear voice against the occupation and in favor of peace and Jewish-Arab cooperation, is disqualified by the Elections Committee led by the racist Kahanists, together with the extreme right, those who proudly deny the values of democracy, and who promote race theory and transfer. We are speaking about a political silencing of whoever opposes a discriminatory and racist regime. The door of the Israeli Knesset is widely open for Kahanists, but not to a democratic front for peace and equality.

Ben-Ari himself was denied entry to the U.S. in 2012 on the grounds that he was a member of a terrorist organization. His Jewish Power party subscribes to the racist, anti-Arab views of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose original Kach party was outlawed by the US and Israel as a terrorist organization.

Ben-Ari is a devout disciple of Kahane who openly declared that Israel could not be both Jewish and democratic, and repeatedly called for the forcible expulsion of Palestinians.

Kahane’s followers have conducted a series of terror attacks on Palestinians and left-wing Jewish Israelis. His most notorious follower was Baruch Goldstein — the American-Israeli settler who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.

Despite opposing Ben-Ari, Mandelblit had ironically stated that Ben-Ari’s colleague Itamar Ben-Gvir should be allowed to run. Ben-Gvir famously has a photo of Goldstein hanging in his living room.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg called the decision to allow Ben-Ari to run “embarrassing,” and promised that Meretz would petition to the Supreme Court.

Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman also condemned the decision, saying it was “a disgrace that those who call for transfer, deportation and murder get a stamp of approval that legitimizes their opinions – and that Israeli society can be forgiving towards it and hear it.”

“Two racists who seek to execute Kahane’s doctrine – who was denunciated from the parliamentary arena – return under the sponsorship of Netanyahu and the blessing of the rest of the right,” she said.

Palestinian MK Esawi Freige of Meretz called Ben-Gvir a racist during deliberations, saying “this man, who hung a photo of a murderer in his room is supposed to be an MK. This man, who’s coming to deport me, is going to be a member of the Israeli Knesset.”

During his remarks, Ben-Gvir called Rabbi Kahane a “great and wonderful man,” saying “he didn’t speak of death to Arabs but of loyalty to the State of Israel.”

He went on to say that he and Ben-Ari should be allowed to run because the High Court permitted former Palestinian MK Haneen Zoabi, who has been criticized for her outspoken defense of Palestinian rights, to run.

Wednesday’s decisions follow a pattern of strengthening the right-wing, while weakening the Palestinian parties.

The Palestinian parties have been splintering from their previous Joint List coalition, which embodied four parties with somewhat different ideologies. They ended up running in two dual camps: UAL-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al. The Joint List unity ahead of the 2015 elections was widely understood as a joining of forces to ensure survival above the electoral threshold of 3.25% (meaning four Knesset seats out of the 120). The threshold was raised in 2014 from 2%.

Disqualification of Palestinian parties like UAL-Balad are a regular occurrence in Israel, and these disqualifications are regularly appealed to the Supreme Court, which usually counters the Knesset Committee decision.

Under Israeli law, if you advocate for a democratic state that is not specifically “Jewish”, then you violate Israeli law. It’s hard to know, though, how this one will turn out, as the Supreme Court is manned by more ultra-nationalist judges, including settlers, than before.

We shall see what the Supreme Court will have to say about these disqualifications, but in the reality of the Israeli elections, all this seems to serve a largely symbolic purpose.

Even if no Palestinian party was disqualified, it is highly doubtful that they would be wanted in any governing coalition, even by the Gantz-Lapid-led Blue White centrist party. No Israeli government can be formed with a Palestinian Arab party as a coalition partner – that’s how it’s always been.

Recent polls are also indicating a certain fall for the centrist Blue White party, from its original euphoric poll success that took a lot of votes from Likud. It is evening out, with Blue White polling at 35 seats, Likud at 30 (KAN public broadcaster poll). Now, a right-wing coalition government is predicted to produce a majority 61-seat coalition and secure a narrow win against a center-left coalition.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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12 Responses

  1. Boomer on March 7, 2019, 1:22 pm

    re: “Under Israeli law, if you advocate for a democratic state that is not specifically “Jewish”, then you violate Israeli law. ”

    Judging by the current discussions in the U.S., Ms. Pelosi et al. would have us believe that Americans who do this violate acceptable norms of discourse here, as well.

    • Marnie on March 7, 2019, 9:21 pm

      “Israel is our friend”. Nancy Pelosi.

      There’s another israel somewhere maybe?

    • Misterioso on March 8, 2019, 8:40 am

      @Boomer, et al

      As “Israel,” the fraudulent, anachronistic, expansionist, so called “Jewish State” descends faster and deeper into the abyss of fascism and racism it is desecrating the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The horrible irony is beyond words.

      “Why the Outrage? ‘Jewish Power’ Party is the New Norm in Israeli Politics”
      by Ramzy Baroud / March 6th, 2019

      “Immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged an alliance with the fringe political group, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), a widespread outrage ensued.

      “The anger did not emanate only from the Center, Left and Arab parties, but from some in the Right as well. Even the pro-Israel lobby in the US, known for its hawkish political views, spoke out against the sinister union.

      “’The views of Otzma Yehudit,’ the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tweeted, ‘are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.’

      “But what if they do? And what if ‘Otzma Yehudit’ is but a different political articulation of mainstream Israeli views, reflecting the very ‘core values’ that even AIPAC has been blindly defending since its inception in 1953?

      “Prior to the alliance between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Rafi Peretz’s far-right Jewish Home, and Otzma Yehudit, which was struck on February 20, Israel was hardly a liberal democracy that shunned racism and embraced political pluralism. Indeed, it must be understood that the inclusion of Otzma Yehudit in Israel’s mainstream political scene is consistent with the moral corruption of Israeli politics as a whole.

      “To protest the alliance between Netanyahu and the fanatical leaders of Otzma Yehudit is to suggest that mainstream Israeli politicians don’t represent the very chauvinistic, racist and violent ideals that the extremist party has championed since its formation in 2012.

      “Otzma Yehudit was resurrected by the followers of Brooklyn-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who has advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and has led his followers in many violent incursions against Palestinian Arab communities, in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

      “His Kach party, banned in Israel four years after its formation in 1984, was even then not rejected for its ‘racist policies’ as many in the media are now suggesting. The party operated outside the confines of the Israeli government agenda, thus it was forced out, but its violent ideas persisted in the Knesset until this day. If racism against Palestinians was truly a Kach-championed political anomaly, how is one to explain the racist Nation-State law, which defines Israel as a ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people’ – elevating everything Jewish and degrading everything Palestinian?

      “The law is hardly different from Otzma Yehudit’s own constitution, which defines Israel as a ‘Jewish state in its character, its national symbols and its legal values,’ also defining Hebrew as Israel’s ‘only official language.’

      “In fact, a careful reading of the party’s constitution and the text of the Nation-State law reveals astounding similarities. This suggests that since the days of Meir Kahane, it is Israeli society that has drawn closer to the views of Jewish extremists, not the other way around.

      “Indeed, Kahane was assassinated in 1990, but his ideas lived on, expanding along with Jewish settlements to finally capture mainstream imagination. The outrage against the Netanyahu-Otzma Yehudit alliance is likely motivated by a slight degree of fear that the ugly face of Zionism has been fully exposed to the world.

      “As for AIPAC, it is clear that no amount of carefully-worded diplomatic language will suffice to explain why the Israeli government is to be populated by members of a party that has been listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department since 1994.

      “Netanyahu is desperate, and, as history has taught us, when the Israeli Prime Minister is in a political jam, he would stoop to any level to free himself. In the last general elections in 2015, Netanyahu made a final appeal to his supporters. ‘Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,’ he said, resorting to his typical style of fear-mongering. Unsurprisingly, he won.

      “Netanyahu is more desperate now than ever. His opponents in the Center are merging their parties in a new list, Kahol Lavan or ‘Blue and White,’ which has the potential to unseat him on April 9.

      “Worse, the Israeli attorney general has resolved on February 28 to indict Netanyahu for ‘bribery and fraud.’ A poll published the following day found that two-thirds of Israelis think that Netanyahu should resign if indicted.

      “Netanyahu’s own opportunistic legacy is more than enough to explain his decision to reach out to Otzma Yehudit, but what is truly mind-boggling is the outrage at a political move that seems perfectly fit for Israel’s mainstream politics.

      “Even if Israel’s Central Election Committee resolves to bar Otzma Yehudit from participating in the upcoming elections, little will change in terms of the values and ideals the party stands for, principles that, in one way or another, also define Jewish Home, the New Right, the Likud and others.

      “Otzma Yehudit’s platform calls for a war against the ‘enemies of Israel’ that must ‘be total, without negotiations, without concessions and without compromises.’

      “But isn’t this essentially the same view of Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice in Netanyahu’s coalition, and now one of the leaders of the newly formed ‘New Right’ party?

      “In 2014, just before Israel unleashed its most destructive war on the besieged Gaza Strip, Shaked declared the need for a total war. ‘Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation … This is a war … This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people …’

      “More than 2,139 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the Israeli war that followed her declaration, and over 11,000 were wounded.

      “Why the outrage, then, when the fringe party’s mission to ‘restore the sovereignty and ownership over the Temple Mount’ – meaning, Al-Aqsa Mosque – is consistent with the views of most Israelis, religious and secular alike? Knesset members have made that call repeatedly, often from Al-Aqsa itself, while surrounded by scores of soldiers and armed Jewish settlers.

      “As for the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, as Otzma Yehudit advocates, that, too, is a common ideal that most Israeli political groups, spanning the Right and Left, brazenly champion.

      “AIPAC is not only being hypocritical to suggest that Otzma Yehudit violates the ‘core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel,’ it is being purposely deceptive as well.

      “In fact, Otzma Yehudit’s platform only reinforces the existing ‘core values’ of Israel, the same values that AIPAC itself champions without the slightest regard for human rights, international law and the principles of true democratic values.”

  2. Brewer on March 7, 2019, 1:27 pm

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    • RoHa on March 7, 2019, 11:35 pm

      That’s what happens when you start talking to Irishmen. And just when you think you’ve grasped that, they go all playboy of the western world on you and synge you with “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

      Then you’re done for.

      Stick to “The Holy Ground” and “Whisky in the Jar”. Unless Sir Tristram is playing them on his viol d’amores. If so, best stay A way a lone a last a loved a long the

      • Brewer on March 8, 2019, 10:01 am

        Ha! It recycles well though don’t it?

  3. ckg on March 7, 2019, 2:19 pm

    Bull Connor makes aliyah…

    • Mooser on March 7, 2019, 11:14 pm

      “Bull Connor makes aliyah…”

      And sometimes a matzoh is just a half-baked cracker.

  4. Talkback on March 7, 2019, 3:08 pm

    “Under Israeli law, if you advocate for a democratic state that is not specifically “Jewish”, then you violate Israeli law.”

    Oh it is even more exciting. You can violate Israel’s quasi constitutional basic laws, if it is befitting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and this violation itself is constitutional.

    And it is even more exciting. In the case of the “entry law” a majority of judges ruled that it was unconstitutional, because it violated constitutional rights (the right to family and the right to equality which only interpreted into the basic law and was explicitely removed). But then one judge of this majority also ruled that it was better to have an unconstitutional law than to have no law at all until a constitutional variation of this law is enacted. And so the minority became the majority. Not to mention that the law was never found unconstitutional again, because the composition of judges changed and the new round was even more “Jewish and democratic”.

    What a wonderful democracy.

  5. Kay24 on March 7, 2019, 8:58 pm

    This only proves that this is an apartheid country. It is time Israel stopped pretending it is, and claiming to be, a democracy, and it is also time the US stopped pretending to believe them. Israel keeps acting like it is above all international laws, and knows that America will accept and even support, any crime they commit, and say nothing when Israel discriminates, and acts in the most undemocratic way. The world is getting a glimpse into how a one state solution will work.
    It is ugly.

  6. Jejasalo on March 8, 2019, 11:33 am

    “Whoever supports terror will not be in the Israeli Knesset,“ says Netanyahu.

    A short revision will correct this statement.

    “Whoever supports terror will be in the Israeli Knesset or, failing that, in the US Congress.”

  7. [email protected] on March 8, 2019, 12:39 pm

    And we all will be together by the risin’ of the moon

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