Israel's Supreme Court has rejected a petition by far-right election candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir to be moved up his party's electoral slate, after his colleague was banned from participation for racism and incitement.
When the parties planning to contest Israel's upcoming general election on 9 April submitted their electoral slates in February, Ben-Gvir was placed second on the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party's list. His colleague and party leader, Michael Ben Ari, was placed first. Under a subsequent deal with the Jewish Home and National Union parties – which joined to form an alliance known as the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) – Ben Ari and Ben-Gvir took fifth and eighth place respectively on the alliance's final slate.
However, following the Supreme Court's decision last month to ban Ben Ari from electoral participation on the grounds of racism and incitement, Ben-Gvir had submitted a petition to be allowed to take Ben Ari's higher place on the URWP list. The Supreme Court yesterday rejected this petition on the grounds that "Israeli law bars parties from changing their lists after they are submitted to the Central Elections Committee," the Times of Israel reported.
The Supreme Court voted 2-1 in favour of rejecting Ben-Gvir's petition. The court's decision is consistent with the ruling of the Central Elections Committee – the body which oversees Israel's electoral process and is made up of Knesset Members (MKs) from each political party – which last week also rejected Ben-Gvir's petition on the recommendation of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
Ben-Gvir will now have to maintain his original slate position, which has automatically been raised to seventh in the absence of Ben Ari. However, given the fact that the URWP is currently polling at around five seats, Ben-Gvir may be too low on the list to be given a seat after 9 April.
The URWP has been quick to lambast the Supreme Court's decision, seeing it as further evidence of what it claims is the judiciary's bias against the right-wing. In a statement following the ruling, the URWP said:
This is the last time the High Court will decide for us. After the elections, we will decide for the High Court.
Ben-Gvir adopted a similar tone, saying "the judges know that unlike cosmetic changes carried out by other politicians, I'm the only one who will put an end to the High Court of Justice's rule". Ben-Gvir was referring to the prospect that, should he be elected to the Knesset next week, he will be granted a position on the Judicial Appointments Committee, which selects Israel's judiciary.
Commentators have warned that such a move could have grave consequences for Israel's judiciary, which has become a target of Otzma Yehudit and other right-wing parties. Israel's Justice Minister and co-founder of the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party, Ayelet Shaked, has, throughout her term, worked to curtail the power of the judiciary, vowing to begin a "judicial revolution" after the upcoming election.
Despite the Supreme Court's blow to his candidacy yesterday, Ben-Gvir today continued his election campaign by protesting against Israel's decision to re-open the Kerem Shalom (Karm Abu Salem) crossing into the besieged Gaza Strip. Ben-Gvir, supported by a group of Otzma Yehudit and URWP activists, blocked trucks attempting to pass through the crossing, which is the only commercial entry and exit point for goods and medical supplies into the coastal enclave.
During the protest, the driver of one truck claimed that the activists tried to beat him with clubs, the Jerusalem Post reported. The Israel Police were called to the scene, with a video published by Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva showing the policemen trying to calm the protesters and clear the area.
Speaking at the protest, Ben-Gvir said: "Opening the Kerem Shalom crossing is a mark of disgrace for the Israeli government. In the next Knesset we will demand that if there won't be calm in the [Israeli towns] near Gaza, then there won't be calm inside of Gaza."
Ben-Gvir was likely referring to Israel's bombardment of the Strip last week, which Tel Aviv claimed was a response to rocket fire. Right-wing parties have slammed Israel's reaction as weak, with Shaked and her New Right colleague, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, calling for more bombs to be dropped on the Strip.