Itamar Ben-Gvir (right) and Michael Ben-Ari in Supreme Court Thursday
Itamar Ben-Gvir (right) and Michael Ben-Ari in Supreme Court ThursdayYonatan Sindel/Flash90

The Israeli Supreme Court convened Thursday in response to a petition by left-wing lawmakers looking to bar a right-wing faction from running in next month’s Knesset election.

MK Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the far-left Meretz party, Stav Shaffir, MK from the Labor party, and representatives of the Reform Movement in Israel called on the court to block former National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, both candidates from the Otzma Yehudit party, from running in this year’s election, claiming the two were guilty of anti-Arab incitement.

The Otzma Yehudit faction, which failed to enter the Knesset on a joint list with the Yahad party in 2015, is running on a joint ticket with the Jewish Home party. Ben-Ari has been given the joint list’s fifth slot, considered a “safe” seat, while Ben-Gvir is on the ticket’s eight spot. The joint list, dubbed the Union of Right-Wing Parties, is projected to win anywhere from six to eleven seats.

In the Supreme Court Thursday, Zandberg said the decision last week to permit Ben-Gvir and Ben-Ari to run for the Knesset was flawed, noting that the election committee is made up of political leaders from the Knesset itself.

Zandberg accused Otzma Yehudit of backing terrorism, and linking it with the banned movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

“The elections committee is a political committee, which decided to ban Arab representatives but to permit the terrorist group ‘Kahane Chai’ to run,” referring to the banned ‘Kach’ and ‘Kahane Chai’ parties. “We are here today to remove ‘Kahanism’ from the Knesset. We are here today to prevent the representatives of a terrorist group from getting into the 21st Knesset.”

In response, former MK Ben-Ari accused the petitioners of trying to use the court to silence their political opponents.

“This is a petition to silence,” the political enemies of the left, “by people who don’t hesitate to meet with those who promote murderers. Just this week, we saw Tamar Zandberg giving support to terrorist as she met with Mahmoud Abbas, the one who is financing the murder of women and children, calling the meeting a summit for the issue of the Palestinian people. What [Meretz] is trying to do is silence our cry. We aren’t against Arabs.”

Outside of the hearing, supporters of Otzma Yehudit clashed with left-wing and Arab activists. Supreme Court staff distanced those involved from the hearing room.

Last week, the Israeli central elections committee okayed the candidacies of both Ben-Gvir and Ben-Ari – despite a recommendation by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that Ben-Ari be banned from the Knesset, over several social media posts and videos.

While the committee rejected petitions against the Otzma Yehudit candidates, it voted to ban the anti-Zionist United Arab List and Balad factions, which have formed a joint list for the election, from running, citing their opposition to Israel’s status as a Jewish state.

The committee also voted to ban Hebrew University professor Ofer Cassif’s candidacy. Cassif is the sole Jewish candidate on the Hadash-Ta’al list.

Cassif has drawn criticism for his comparisons of the Israeli leaders and even the State of Israel to the Nazi party and Nazi-era Germany.

Cassif once shared a Facebook post calling Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (New Right) “neo-Nazi scum”.

In 2017, he was recorded during a class comparing the State of Israel to Nazi Germany, warning that Israel was “on a slippery slope” to fascism.

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