Central Elections Committee Nixes Disqualifying Joint List Candidates

The Knesset’s Central Elections Committee (CED) convened on Wednesday, February 17, and rejected petitions by the fascist and racist Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party to disqualify the Joint List and Ra’am from running in the March 23 general elections for the Knesset. The committee is made up of representatives of factions in the outgoing Knesset.

The Central Elections Committee convened in Jerusalem on Wednesday, February 17, to debate and vote on the disqualification petitions submitted by Otzma Yehudit aimed at delegitimizing Arab representation in Israel's Knesset.

The Central Elections Committee convened in Jerusalem on Wednesday, February 17, to debate and vote on the disqualification petitions submitted by Otzma Yehudit aimed at delegitimizing Arab representation in Israel’s Knesset. (Photo: Central Elections Committee)

Otzma Yehudit had filed petitions against the Joint List, Ra’am (United Arab List, which had split from the Joint List) and the Labor Party’s seventh candidate, Ibtisam Mara’ana. While rejecting the first two petitions, the Central Elections Committee voted 16-15 in favor of accepting the petition against Labor’s Mara’ana, with votes cast by MKs from the Likud, Shas, Yamina, Bayit Yehudi, the National Union and Gesher. Knesset members from the Joint List, Blue & White, Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz voted against the move. Yisrael Beytenu and Derech Eretz did not participate in the vote and two committee members from the Ultra-Orthodox UTJ (United Torah Judaism) abstained.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit wrote to the Central Elections Committee on Tuesday, February 16, recommending to reject all of the disqualification requests. In two responses filed by Adalah attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Sawsan Zaher, Adalah called on the Central Elections Committee’s chairman, Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, to use his authority to entirely dismiss the disqualification motions, contending that the petitions were filed in a dishonest and misleading manner and do not establish the required factual basis for disqualification.

Hadash responded to the CEC’s rejection of the petitions by Otzma Yehudit against the Joint List and Ra’am saying, “Members of the racist party know that they had no evidence that would allow the disqualification of the Joint List from the upcoming election. Their single goal was to create a public stage upon which they could promote the doctrine of Meir Kahane and to disseminate lies regarding the Arab citizenry’s public representatives. The decision of the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday confirms that the motion was to promote their racist view that Arabs should not demand equal citizenship.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Channel 12 on Monday, February15, that he wants Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the extreme-right Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, to be a part of his coalition after the March 23 election.

The far-right PM orchestrated a deal between Ben Gvir and Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich for a joint run that recent polls have predicted will pass the Knesset electoral threshold. Netanyahu hopes to thus avoid a loss of right-wing votes and bolster his chances of forming a government after the election.

Ben Gvir, however, has in recent days indicated that if Netanyahu comes to power with his support, he expects an influential position and intends to push forward his racist plans. “I really respect Netanyahu, but on this, he is mistaken. I do not plan to be a scarecrow in the Knesset. I want to be in a position of influence,” he told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday, February 14.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has been behind a deal to bring Otzma Yehudit into the political mainstream. In February 2019, the prime minister was heavily criticized at home and abroad after engineering a deal for Otzma Yehudit to join two other right-wing factions, a pact that almost saw Ben Gvir enter the Knesset after the April 2019 election. Before the September 2019 election, and after failing to convince leaders of the right-wing Yamina party to include Otzma Yehudit in their alliance, Netanyahu waged an aggressive campaign against Otzma Yehudit. He did the same ahead of the March 2020 election, after then-Jewish Home chairman Rafi Peretz broke his agreement to run with Otzma Yehudit and agreed to once again merge his faction into Yamina, leaving Ben Gvir out in the cold.