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Israeli Election Committee Bans Arab Candidate, Netanyahu Aids Arab Ally
Left: Labor party candidate Ibtisam Mara'ana (L) at Other Israel Film Festival, Nov. 10, 2011 in New York City. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images). Right: MK Mansour Abbas. (Knesset website)

Israeli Election Committee Bans Arab Candidate, Netanyahu Aids Arab Ally

One month before election day, Israeli race heats up

The Israeli parliament’s Central Elections Committee on Wednesday voted to disqualify a Labor party candidate from running in the upcoming March elections, a largely symbolic move that the nation’s Supreme Court is widely expected to overturn.

Ibtisam Mara’ana, No. 7 on Labor’s list for parliament, is an Arab Israeli artist and film director. After clinching her place in the left-wing party’s primaries earlier this month, a handful of controversial social media posts she published nearly 10 years ago began to surface.

In 2012, Mara’ana commented on Facebook that she had enjoyed not respecting the nationwide moment of silence held during Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. In another post, she accused Israeli soldiers of murder.

Mara’ana later apologized for her comments, but on Wednesday the Knesset’s committee, comprising representatives of parliament’s various parties, chose to ban her from running for office, citing her past divisive words.

Ibtisam is a partner for building a shared future in Israel and we will not allow people whose mother tongue is violence to impose their racist views on the entire nation

“The attorney general made his objection to the disqualification clear,” Labor’s spokesperson told The Media Line. “Ibtisam is a partner for building a shared future in Israel and we will not allow people whose mother tongue is violence to impose their racist views on the entire nation.”

According to Israel’s Basic Law: The Knesset, a list or individual candidate can be disqualified prior to an election if they explicitly or implicitly oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or if they incite racism or support an enemy state or terrorist group.

While the decision to disqualify requires only a simple majority to pass, it will now proceed to Israel’s Supreme Court, where it is likely to be struck down in what has become a predictable affair.

Recent elections have seen several candidates barred from running by the committee, divided along partisan lines, only to be reinstated by the court.

But perhaps the more noticeable petition discussed by the elections committee was filed by the extreme right-wing Religious Zionism party, to disqualify both the Joint List, a predominantly Arab party, and its offshoot, the United Arab List.

The demand to ban Arab representatives from running for parliament is normally eagerly supported by the Likud. In the recent election cycles of 2019-2020, the right-wing party chaired by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu voted to disqualify the Joint List, as well as some of its individual candidates.

We decided not to take part in this discussion since Israeli Arab citizens already know these parties don’t represent them and are disappearing

Yet on Wednesday, the Likud elected not to attend the vote, essentially ensuring that both predominantly Arab parties are allowed to run unchallenged.

“We decided not to take part in this discussion since Israeli Arab citizens already know these parties don’t represent them and are disappearing,” Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, the party’s representative to the election committee, told The Media Line, trying to explain the bizarre 180.

But the move is widely considered to be part of Netanyahu’s behind-the-scenes deal with the chair of the United Arab List, Mansour Abbas.

Abbas, who split from the Joint list after running as one party in the past three elections, has praised Netanyahu in recent months and left the door open for possibly joining a future Netanyahu-led government. In a handful of votes over the past two years, Abbas’ United Arab faction voted with the Likud on a number of issues, including the Knesset’s dispersal in 2019 and the appointment of a state comptroller considered to be Netanyahu’s preferred choice.

In December, Abbas said he would not rule out supporting a bill halting Netanyahu’s ongoing criminal trial, if the government would “begin taking care of its Arab citizens.”

The prime minister is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Prior to last year’s elections, the Likud repeatedly accused rival Benny Gantz of cozying up to the “terrorist-supporting” Arab lawmakers, going as far as claiming he would form a government with them.

The criterion is simple: It’s not Israel that matters, not democracy, not the rule of law. It’s only Netanyahu. If you support him, you’re OK

Perhaps feeling the pressure from their constituents and aware of the public’s anger following their stunning about-face, Netanyahu’s party released a statement explaining their actions.

“The Joint List and Abbas will not be part of our coalition and we will not lean on their support in any way, because they condone terrorism. In every election, we vote to disqualify the Joint List and the Supreme Court reinstates it and that strengthens them and wins them more votes.”

Yet some in parliament were not buying it.

“Their hypocrisy was made clear today,” Labor’s spokesperson said. “They vote against Ibtisam but abstain from the other votes. The criterion is simple: It’s not Israel that matters, not democracy, not the rule of law. It’s only Netanyahu. If you support him, you’re OK.”

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