The Israeli-Arab alliance Ra'am-Balad and Hadash's only Jewish candidate, Ofer Cassif, have been banned from participating in the upcoming Israeli election.
Israel's Central Election Committee – the body which oversees the country's electoral process and is made up of Knesset Members (MKs) from each political party – announced last night that Ra'am-Balad is to be banned from participating in the upcoming general election on 9 April.
The committee passed the ban by 17 votes to ten, after the Likud and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) parties filed petitions to see Ra'am-Balad disqualified. The two parties accused Ra'am-Balad of "seeking to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state," supporting "the violent Palestinian resistance and [Lebanon's] Hezbollah," as well as claiming that "most of its members are supporters and backers of terror," the Times of Israel reported.
The committee's decision went against the recommendation of Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who earlier this week rejected the petitions on the grounds that "there has not been a critical mass of evidence required to disqualify a list of candidates".
Ra'am-Balad responded to the ban, saying in a statement:
The decision to disqualify the list is a political, racist and populist decision aimed to deliver a blow to the political representation of Arab citizens [of Israel]. It is no surprise that a panel of racist parties that do not want to see Arabs in the Knesset is targeting us.
The top candidate on the alliance's slate, Mansour Abbas, said he had expected that most of the right-wing MKs on the election committee would support the move, but stressed that "we are a democratic Arab list that is seeking to represent Arab society with dignity and responsibility".
Mtanes Shehadeh – Ra'am-Balad's number two – said the decision was "expected" because the committee is "controlled by a fascist, right-wing ideology," adding that his party "presents a challenge to democracy in Israel," Haaretz reported.
The committee also voted yesterday to ban Hadash's only Jewish candidate, Ofer Cassif, from participating in the election. A petition was submitted by Yisrael Beiteinu head and former Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to have Cassif banned on the grounds that he allegedly rejects Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state". Cassif, who is a communist and has expressed strong criticism of Zionism, was placed fifth on the Hadash-Ta'al slate but has since been repeatedly lambasted by other Jewish-Israeli MKs.
Yisrael Beiteinu MK, Oded Forer, said of the decision: "Cassif and ten people like him [in the Hadash-Ta'al slate] will not succeed in their unholy mission to desecrate the state and turn it into another multi-national Arab state in the Middle East."
"We prevented the next Zoabi from entering the Knesset," he added, referring to Balad MK Haneen Zoabi who was also disqualified temporarily from the Knesset by the same committee in 2015.
The Israeli Supreme Court will rule on the two bans on Sunday.
Yesterday's decision represents a huge blow for the Arab-Israeli parties' electoral prospects. The parties performed well in the 2015 election, running together under the Joint List banner to win 82 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel's vote and become the third-largest party in the Knesset with 13 seats. Though the Joint List broke down in January following the exit of Ta'al head Ahmad Tibi, its component parties hoped to improve on their 2015 performance by running on two slates: Ra'am-Balad and Hadash-Ta'al.
Recent polls showed that the two lists could have done just that, predicting seven to nine seats for Hadash-Ta'al and four or five seats for Ra'am-Balad.
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The decision will also be seen as evidence of the dual standard against which Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli political parties are held. Just hours prior to the decision to ban Ra'am-Balad and Cassif, the same committee voted in favour of allowing controversial leader of Oztma Yehudit, Michael Ben Avir, to contest the election. The decision again went against the recommendation of Attorney General Mandelblit, who argued that Ben Avir should be barred from participation given his history of racism and incitement against Palestinians.
Both Ben Avir and his second-in-command, Itamar Ben-Gvir, are followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed in Israel in the 1980s for incitement and racism. Kahane's ideology is notoriously associated with extremist settler Baruch Goldstein, who carried out the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, slaughtering 29 Palestinian worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan.