JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Supreme Court voted to disqualify Michael Ben-Ari, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, from running in national elections over his racism and racist incitement.
The court decided on Monday by a vote of 8 to 1 in favour 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. In arguments before the court on Thursday, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Ben-Ari’s racist ideas, which he desires to turn into reality, “constitute the candidate’s central and overriding goal … [and is] a defining expression of his identity as a candidate.”
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 Knesset from 2009 to 2012 as part of the National Union Party.
Ben-Ari’s party, which follows the tenants of the banned extremist Kach party and its leader Meir Kahane, 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.
What’s next: As the BBC noted, this decision likely won’t affect the Jewish Power party all that much in the polls. Another candidate has already been approved to take Ben-Ari’s place on the party slate.
It’s the first time since electoral rules were amended in 2002 that one individual, and not his or her entire party, was banned from an election.