Israel bars Palestinian party from election, but approves two extreme-right groups

Israel bars Palestinian party from election, but approves two extreme-right groups
An Israeli elections committee, made up of representatives of parties in parliament, has barred the Palestinian Balad party from participating in upcoming elections but approved two far-right candidates.
2 min read
07 March, 2019
Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed Balad supports terror [Getty Images]
Israel's election committee has disqualified an Palestinian left-wing party, described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as supporting terrorism, from taking part in April elections.

The committee, made up of representatives of parties in parliament, voted 17 to 10 in favour of disqualifying the pro-democracy Balad Party late Wednesday night, after earlier approving Jewish candidates from the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit to run.

"It's worrying what's happening in this country, but not surprising," Balad candidate Heba Yazbak told Israeli Army Radio Thursday.

"Balad is usually disqualified before elections," she said. "We shall appeal to the Supreme Court."

Balad, whose stated purpose is to transform Israel into a state for all citizens - regardless of religion or race - had been challenged by Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, under laws disqualifying those who challenge the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or who back armed opposition to it.

"Those who support terror will not be in the Israeli Knesset!" Netanyahu wrote on social media after the vote.

The committee's decision went against a recommendation by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said the evidence presented against Balad was old.

The attorney general had recommended Michael Ben-Ari be disqualified, saying the politician's comments amounted to "incitement to racism", but the committee approved Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Ben-Ari has described Israeli Arabs as "treacherous and murderous" and was a former member of Kach, a former far-right party that both Israel and the US deemed a terrorist organisation.

Two previous attempts to disqualify the Balad party have been overruled by the Israeli Surpreme Court.

The committee also barred Ofer Cassif, the sole Jewish candidate for the mainly Arab Hadash party, under the same criteria.

Balad is fiercely critical of Israeli policies, particularly the occupation of Palestinian territory. It advocates a two state solution based on pre-1967 borders and the implementation of the right of return for 1948 Palestinian refugees.

The party last held 3 seats in 2013.

Challenges to the election committee's Wednesday ruling are to be filed with the supreme court on Sunday.

The Israel Democracy Institute think-tank said Thursday that the structure of the committee is problematic.

"A committee composed of political party representatives competing against each other on the eve of elections cannot be expected to impartially implement judicial rulings," it said in a statement.

Israeli prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz compared Balad to a banned Jewish far-right group Kahane in February, in an attempt to discredit the pro-democracy Balad Party.