Israeli panel won't bar 'terrorist' Netanyahu allies from elections
Israel's central elections committee on Wednesday paved the way for an extremist party, associated with convicted terrorists to participate in April's parliamentary vote, narrowly rejecting an attempt to disqualify its leaders on the grounds that they incite racism against Palestinians.
The committee, made up of representatives from parties in the current Parliament, voted 16-15 against motions to disqualify Jewish Power party leaders Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Jewish Power's leaders are successors of the late rabbi and convicted terrorist Meir Kahane, who advocated the forced removal of Palestinians and a Jewish theocracy.
Kahane's Kach party was banned from the Israeli Parliament in the 1980s, and the US has classified Kahane's Jewish Defence League a terrorist group. In 2012, the US refused to give Ben Ari an entrance visa, saying he was involved in a terror organisation.
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The opposition Meretz party and the Reform Movement in Israel submitted an appeal to the elections committee to bar the Jewish Power leaders from running in the April 9 vote, citing racist remarks against Israel's Palestinian minority.
Speaking to The Associated Press before Wednesday's committee vote, Jewish Power candidate Baruch Marzel dismissed accusations of racism, saying "we don't have anything against Arabs."
"We have a battle with our enemy, and it's some of the Arabs. There are some Jews," he said.
Earlier this week, Israel's attorney general called for Ben Ari's disqualification, saying he has incited against Palestinians. He cited comments by Ben Ari in social media videos describing Arabs as a "murderous people" who understand "only force."
The decision to disqualify, however, fell to the central elections committee.
After the committee's decision to let him run, Ben Ari dismissed the attorney general's statement as "false."
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu struck a controversial election deal last month that would ensure members of Jewish Power a parliamentary seat in an effort to unite Israel's hard-line nationalist and religious bloc ahead of the elections.
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