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 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.
Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit had recommended Ben-Ari – who has described Palestinians as “treacherous and murderous” – be disqualified, saying the politician’s comments amounted to “incitement to racism”.
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 the joint Arab party Raam-Balad from the election in accordance with a motion filed by Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party. Likud says the Balad faction 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!” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
The committee’s decision went against a recommendation by the attorney general, who said the evidence presented against Raam-Balad was old and a previous attempt to disqualify it had been overruled by a court.
The committee also barred Ofer Cassif, the sole Jewish candidate for the mainly Arab Hadash party, under the same criteria.
Raam-Balad, a mix of Islamists and Arab nationalists, describes itself as a democratic movement opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
“We have a fierce argument with Zionism,” Mansour Abbas, who heads the Raam faction, said.
Raam-Balad now holds eight of parliament’s 120 seats. Candidates of other parties representing Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority remain eligible to run.
Arab Israelis are descended from Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.
They hold Israeli citizenship, making up 17.5 percent of the country’s population, but most see themselves as Palestinians.
Abbas rejected the terrorism charge and said Raam-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 Israel Democracy Institute think-tank said Thursday that the structure of the Elections 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.