Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has recommended banning two candidates from the ultra-right-wing Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party from contesting the country's September election.
Mandelblit yesterday submitted his legal opinion to Israel's Central Election Committee – which oversees the country's electoral process – that Otzma number two Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein, who is placed fifth on the party's slate, should not be allowed to participate in the upcoming general election on 17 September.
Mandelblit based his recommendation on an Israeli law called "Basic Law: The Knesset", which states that political parties or candidates cannot run for office if they engage in incitement to racism. The attorney general cited evidence submitted against the pair which presented a "clear picture of incitement to racism on their part," stressing that "there is no doubt that Marzel and Gopstein have crossed the line and are 'deep' in forbidden territory".
The same law was used to ban Otzma Yehudit's leader, Michael Ben Ari, from participating in the April election, citing his frequent use of anti-Palestinian rhetoric. Yesterday Mandelblit did not recommend banning Ben Ari's replacement, Itamar Ben Gvir, from running in September's election, saying there was insufficient evidence to do so.
Mandelblit did, however, note that Ben Gvir was much closer to the "red line" than when a similar petition was submitted against him ahead of the April election. Ben Gvir is known to have a photo of Baruch Goldstein – an extremist settler who carried out the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron – in his home, but is more selective in his rhetoric, likely due to his occupation as a lawyer.
For their part, Marzel and Gopstein have a long history of anti-Palestinian rhetoric and openly racist behaviour.
Baruch Marzel lives in the illegal Tel Rumeida settlement in Hebron, in the south of the occupied West Bank. During the 1990s he worked as spokesperson for the Kach party, an extremist group banned from electoral participation in Israel and designated a terrorist organisation by the US. After the group's leader Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated, Marzel led the Kach party. He has since continued this anti-Palestinian violence, attacking Palestinian activist Issa Amro at his Hebron home.
Gopstein also has a long history of association with the Kahane movement, previously praising the killing of 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque. In addition, Gopstein heads an organisation called Lehava – meaning "flame" – which works to prevent any relations or intermarriage between Jews and Palestinians and has held demonstrations outside mixed Jewish-Muslim weddings.
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The Central Elections Committee will now vote on whether to ban Marzel and Gopstein from the September election in the coming weeks. The committee – which is made up of representatives from each party in the Israeli Knesset – has been known to ignore the attorney general's recommendation, instead voting along factional lines.
Should this occur, the appeal can be passed up to Israel's Supreme Court for a final verdict.
It is not yet clear whether Otzma Yehudit will win enough votes to cross the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset.
Recent polls have suggested support for the party is growing, putting it at 2.7 per cent of the vote with little over a month to go before election day. Commentators have attributed this swell in support to a sense among far-right voters that the party has been mistreated by allies and opponents alike.
This is likely a reference to the fact that senior figures in the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) – of which Otzma Yehudit was previously a member – reneged on their promise to bring Otzma candidates into the Knesset, despite them placing too low on the slate.
The attorney general's recommendation could therefore risk galvanising this sentiment, pushing disillusioned voters to support the party and boosting its showing above the threshold.