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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 March 2019

Israel bars Arab party from election and allows Jewish supremacist party to run

The decisions stoked an already acrimonious race for the April 9 vote

Hanin Zoabi, a member of Knesset for the Arab Israeli party Balad, caused controversy in November 2015 by comparing discriminatory Israeli policies to those of the Nazis against Jews. AFP
Hanin Zoabi, a member of Knesset for the Arab Israeli party Balad, caused controversy in November 2015 by comparing discriminatory Israeli policies to those of the Nazis against Jews. AFP

Israel's election board has approved far-right Jewish candidates accused by rivals of racism for next month's election while disqualifying an Arab party that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said supported terrorism.

The Central Elections Committee's decisions, taken late on Wednesday, were unlikely to be implemented before court appeals, but stoked an already acrimonious race for the April 9 vote.

Facing a corruption case and a merger of centrist parties that could defeat him, the conservative Mr Netanyahu has allied with an ultra-nationalist list that includes the Jewish Power party to boost his chances.

The elections committee, made up of members of the outgoing parliament, struck down motions that had sought to bar as racist Jewish Power's Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are adherents of late anti-Arab rabbi Meir Kahane.

Left-wing party Meretz said it would appeal, along with centre-left Labour, to the Supreme Court against the decision to let the Jewish Power candidates stand.

The committee also voted 17-10 to bar Arab party Balad from the election in accordance with a motion filed by Mr Netanyahu's ruling Likud party. Likud says Balad wants to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state and backs Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

"Those who support terrorism will not be in the Israeli Knesset!" Mr Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

Balad describes itself as a democratic movement opposed to Zionism and Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.

It now holds four seats as part of the 12-member United Arab List representing members of Israel's Arab minority.

The list's leader, Mansour Abbas, rejected the terrorism charge and said Balad would also appeal.

"We undergo this travesty during every election campaign. In the end, the Supreme Court voids the Elections Committee's political, populist decisions," he told Army Radio on Thursday.

The Supreme Court did reinstate Balad after it was disqualified in 2009.

Israel has in the past prosecuted two Balad figures for contacts with Palestinian militants and accused a former party leader of helping Hezbollah guerrillas during the 2006 Lebanon war, prompting him to emigrate to Qatar.

Mr Netanyahu is battling for political survival after Israel's attorney-general said last week he plans to indict him in three corruption cases. He denies wrongdoing.

His alliance has brought rare censure from the US pro-Israel lobby and normally staunch Netanyahu backer Aipac, which called Jewish Power a "racist and reprehensible party".

Jewish Power leaders call themselves successors to Kahane, a US-born rabbi who served one term in parliament in the 1980s before his Kach party was banned by Israel as racist.

Washington branded the party a terrorist organisation.

Kahane, who was assassinated in New York in 1990 by an Egyptian-born American gunman, advocated the "transfer" of Palestinians to neighbouring Arab countries and a ban on intermarriage between Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Jewish Power currently has no parliament members, having not won enough votes in the previous elections.

No single party has ever won a majority in the 120-member Knesset, and post-election coalition talks determine the shape of the government and its leader.

Opinion polls predict a second-place finish for Likud, with 30 parliamentary seats compared with 35 for a new party, the centrist Blue and White led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz. But the surveys said it was still unclear which party would be able to put together a governing coalition.

Updated: March 8, 2019 10:29 AM

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