Likud seeks agreement between parties not to try to disqualify candidates

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party attempted to broker an agreement between all the political parties not to file court petitions against individual candidates in the upcoming Knesset elections, a move immediately slammed Monday by the rival Blue and White party as an attempt to shield the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice barred Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari from running in the April elections, saying allowing him to seek a Knesset seat would legitimize his racist anti-Arab ideology and incitement to racism. The decision came after the Central Elections Committee, which is made up of parties from the outgoing Knesset and a Supreme Court justice, had narrowly approved Ben Ari’s candidacy. It was the first time in Israel’s history that an individual, rather than a party, was disqualified from running for the Knesset.

Regarding fellow Otzma Yehudit candidate Itamar Ben Gvir, the justices said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to prevent him from running. Ben Gvir is now the party leader, and has also come under attack for having a photo in his office of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist who massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 in Hebron in 1994.

The Central Elections Committee has several times barred nationalist Arab party Balad — now part of the Joint List alliance — as well as members of other Arab-majority parties, citing incitement, but the High Court later approved their candidacies.

On Monday, Likud MK and staunch Netanyahu loyalist David Bitan told the Kan public broadcaster that he was attempting to reach a broad consensus that parties refrain from filing such petitions again ahead of the September vote.

He claimed that because the previous elections in April were so recent and the High Court has already voiced its opinion on the matter, there is no need to go through the process again.

Bitan said that while several other parties had agreed, if one of them refuses and tries to disqualify a candidate, Likud would also file such petitions.

But the initiative appeared to be doomed from the start, as Blue and White’s Yair Lapid immediately told Kan that he would torpedo it, claiming it was designed to protect the extremist Otzma Yehudit, followers of racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whom Netanyahu had personally been pushing to join forces with other religious right-wing parties.

While those efforts succeeded ahead of the April elections, when Otzma was part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, this time around negotiations collapsed despite the premier’s efforts, and Otzma is running alone, with little chance of clearing the 3.25 percent electoral threshold and making it into the parliament.

“This is just an attempt to legitimize the gang of Baruch Goldstein followers whom they are trying to bring into the Knesset and the government,” Lapid said. “This group and Balad’s group should not be in the Knesset.”

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