The leader of the violently anti-Gentile Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party in Israel, Michael Ben-Ari, has been banned by the Israeli Supreme Court from standing as a candidate in the upcoming elections—but his party is still firmly on track to win seats in the Knesset in a formal alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The court decided this week by a vote of 8 to 1 in favor of an appeal by the Reform Movement in Israel, represented by the Israel Religious Action Center. That overturned a decision made by the Israel Central Elections Commission on March 12 to allow Ben-Ari to continue his campaign.
The appeal cited numerous examples of racism and racist incitement by Ben-Ari throughout his career.
Ben-Ari has said the remarks cited by the petition have been taken out of context. He condemned the decision by what he called the “legal junta … trying to control our lives.”
Ben-Ari is in the fifth slot on the joint slate of the Union of Right-Wing parties, which gave him a realistic chance to join the Knesset. He served in the parliament from 2009 to 2012 as part of the National Union Party.
Ben-Ari’s party joined with The Jewish Home and National Union parties to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties in a deal brokered in part by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The banning will have no effect on the Jewish Power party, and they were expecting the move, as another candidate, Baruch Marzel was already approved to take Ben-Ari’s place on the party slate the weekend before the court decision.
Baruch Marzel is an Orthodox Jew from Boston, US, who was previously the leader of the Jewish National Front party (whose policies included preserving Israel as a Jewish state by increasing Jewish immigration, and preventing non-Jews from immigration by strictly applying the Halakha, or Jewish laws of biological ancestry). Marzel was also spokesman for the American rabbi’s Mehir Kahane’s Kach organization until it was outlawed.
Following the disqualification of Ben-Ari, the Jewish Power party published a list of demands from the Jewish Home and National Union parties which said that in addition to the position of minister for Marzel, and that another member, Itamar Ben-Gvir be promoted to fifth place on the joint Knesset list.
In addition, Otzma Yehudit seeks to ensure that Ben-Gvir will chair the Knesset Constitution Committee, regardless of whether Otzma Yehudit is part of the coalition or part of the opposition, and will even be a member of the Judicial Selection Committee.
“In the situation that has been created, about 100,000 Otzma voters feel bitter and hurt, and it is clear that if no suitable solution is given, Otzma voters will find it difficult to come to the polls, which will endanger the right-wing bloc,” the party warned, in effect threatening Netanyahu’s hold on power.
Israel has a proportional representation electoral system with a threshold of 3.25 percent—which means that any party with that percentage of the total vote has seats in the Knesset, a situation which prevents any single party from ever obtaining a governing majority. All governments in the Jewish state are therefore made up of coalitions.
Sources in Otzma Yehudit said that “the demands that were made tonight are legitimate and basic demands and, in light of the unfortunate decision of the Supreme Court, it is only natural to allow a minister from Otzma and for Attorney Ben-Gvir to act in the field of law and bring about a real change that unfortunately did not occur during Ayelet Shaked’s time in office.”
At the same time, the Israeli Supreme Court also reversed a decision to bar an Arab candidate from the elections, overturning an earlier decision based on an accusation that he supported terrorism.
The court approved the candidacy of Raam-Balad, an alliance of Arab nationalists and Islamists, a political group which is vocally opposed to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The Arab population of Israel stands at around 21 percent of the total, and is made up of the remnant of the Palestinian population which the Jewish state’s founders were unable to drive out of Palestine completely in 1948. 82 percent are Muslim, 9 percent are Christian, and 9 percent are Druze. It has long been claimed that the Arab population would eventually outbreed the Jews in Israel, but so far these predictions have been inaccurate. Palestinian birth rates are consistently below that of the Jews, whose large and growing orthodox and ultra-orthodox element provides most of Israel’s population growth.
A 2010 study showed that Jewish birthrates rose by 31 percent, and another 19,000 diaspora Jews immigrated to Israel, while the Arab birthrate fell by two percent.