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Israel’s Right Wing Remains Strong − Despite Barred Candidates Held to Possible Double Standards

Supreme Court bans two Jewish Power candidates but international and domestic attacks strengthen the ideological bloc

Some experts believe the Israeli Supreme Court employed a double standard when on Sunday it banned Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein, both members of the Jewish Power (Otzmah Yehudit) party, from running in the September 17 elections.

Both have made inflammatory anti-Arab statements that the court defined as “inciting racism,” which violates Israeli law. Analysts said, however, that the court’s action would not affect the strength of the overall right wing on the Israeli political landscape.

In February, Marzel said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post: “There is no way we will have quiet or peace as long as we have here… people that believe in their [Muslim] religion that all of the Land of Israel [belongs to them]… The only way to have peace is to get them out of Israel.” Marzel has a lengthy criminal record that includes violence. In addition to assaulting Palestinians, he was arrested for not showing up for police questioning after suspected participation in alleged violence against Arabs in Hebron.

Gopstein, in describing the actions of Baruch Goldstein, the man who murdered 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, said: “I don’t think that what Goldstein did was bad. I just wouldn’t do it myself. He saw Arabs killing his friends and family, and he saw them being happy about their deaths. So he took revenge.” Gopstein also has a police record that involves suspected violence. Nearly 30 years ago, he was arrested but then released for the possible murder of an Arab couple, which to this day remains an uncharged crime.

Gopstein and Marzel have been banned under Article 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which disqualifies entire parties or individual candidates if they have provoked racial hostilities. The law also applies to those who have directly or indirectly refused to accept Israeli sovereignty as a “Jewish and democratic state,” or backed violence perpetrated against Israel by its enemies abroad or through terrorist groups.

Dov Lipman, who served in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, from 2013-2015 for the Yesh Atid party, explained that the Central Elections Committee acted as gatekeeper regarding who could and could not run for office.

Yehuda Ben Meir, a senior researcher fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, explained to The Media Line that it was not a surprise that Gopstein was banned due to his anti-Arab “extremist ideology.” Still, it was not a certainty, Ben Meir said, as evidenced by a dissent by Judge Noam Sohlberg, because Marzel had recently de-escalated his anti-Arab rhetoric.

Lipman contended that there was sometimes a double standard for who gets banned from participating in elections, and there were currently legislators from the Joint [Arab] List who had not sworn oaths recognizing Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” as well others who had publicly supported terrorism.

He said that Israel banned Jewish candidates in part due to concern about its reputation in the international community.

“Israel goes out if its way to give the Arab population a voice…. and we relax the rules for [them] so that the world sees that there is a democracy for [Israeli] Arabs,” Lipman said.

The INSS’ Ben Meir does not believe the court’s decision will change the September vote’s outcome.

“It won’t have a major effect on the election; there might be a short-term visceral reaction now, but it will wear off in [a few] days,” Ben Meir told The Media Line.

The Supreme Court has banned other candidates and parties in the past.

Kach and Kahane Chai were the last parties Israel banned in 1994, with views aligned with ultra-right nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Many analysts today believe that the Jewish Power’s beliefs make it “next of kin” to the prohibited political groups.

While Lipman is not objecting to the court’s decision, he said the same standard should be applied to all parties.

“If the court made a decision based on Israeli law, I respect that, but it should be implemented on both sides,” he said.

Still, Lipman has reservations about prohibiting people from running for office based on their ideology, so long as they do not incite violence.

“I do have a question in general in a democracy about whether it’s wise to ban people from running,” he said. “[Still], I’m proud of the fact that we have branches of democracy that are dealing with these issues in a way that doesn’t exist among other countries in the Middle East.”

The Supreme Court ban of the two Jewish Power candidates comes against the backdrop of the growing dominance of Israel’s right wing. The last time the Left provided the ruling party in Israel was in 1999-2001, when Ehud Barack was prime minister, and many experts argue that it has been in decline since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. This past April, Labor garnered only six seats, the party’s worst-ever result. Meretz, another left-wing party, won four mandates.

According to Dan Diker, head of the Program to Counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Right’s strength is the result of what he said was the failure of the Oslo Accords, which Israel signed with Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 and 1995.

“More and more of the public has realized that this ‘dream deal’ has become our greatest nightmare, as it has undermined Israel’s legitimacy in the international community,” Diker said.

He argued that Israel giving up land in accordance with Oslo had damaged its security, which, in turn, had bolstered the right wing’s strength.

“Israel is at an unprecedented right-wing posture today because it’s under unprecedented attack… on all fronts,” Diker said, citing Hizbullah and Iranian-backed violence from Syria, Lebanon the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He believes that the trend of Israelis gravitating toward the Right will only cease after Iran − and all of the terror groups under its direction − are no longer a threat to the Jewish state.

In addition to an increase in violence and terrorism, Diker said that Israel’s pursuit of a two-state solution had led to the Jewish state supporting Palestinian claims to contested land, thus reducing its own credibility regarding its rights to the area.

“One thing that Israelis want to avoid [in general],” he added, “is being a sucker. We made suckers out of ourselves for conceding [too] much to the Palestinians….”

Diker added that the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying stipends to families of terrorists and “demoniz[ing]” Israel had also helped the Israeli Right dominate the political landscape.

Former parliamentarian Lipman, while also citing the role of Oslo, said that the failed 2000 Camp David Summit and Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 contributed to the growth of support for Israel’s right wing.

The “disengagement” from Gaza led to several wars between Hamas and Israel in the Palestinian enclave, the most recent occurring in 2014.

“Whenever Israelis have taken a step toward peace, they have found themselves in a situation that was more dangerous,” Lipman said.

 (Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies Program)