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Israel’s courts are under attack from the right-wing

9 3 64

This week, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled to ban Michael Ben Ari – the leader of the extreme-right-wing Otzma Yehudit party – from running in the country’s upcoming general election on 9 April. Onlookers breathed a sigh of relief, congratulating the court on making “the right decision” and narrowly avoiding the electoral inclusion of a man who openly expresses racist, ultra-nationalist views.

Yet in deciding to ban Ben Ari, Israel’s Supreme Court has only dodged a short-term bullet. As reactions from the Israeli right have already shown, a much bigger war against the power of the Israeli judiciary is on the horizon, and the attack dogs have just been handed their smoking gun.

The Otzma Yehudit saga

Following Israeli politics in the past few weeks has, even by its own melodramatic standards, felt like watching a telenovela. The saga began when, in late February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated a deal to tie Otzma Yehudit to the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP), an alliance comprised of right-wing, religious-Zionist parties Jewish Home and the National Union.

Facing the prospect that several of his long-time allies might not pass the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold required to sit in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu’s deal was seen as a desperate attempt to sure-up the right-wing bloc that has secured him almost a decade in power. Under the deal, Netanyahu agreed to set aside two cabinet posts for the URWP in return for it taking Otzma Yehudit under its wing. Crucially, the deal would also see the URWP work to secure Otzma Yehudit a seat on the Judicial Appointments Committee, which selects Israel’s judiciary.

Posters of candidates for Israel’s upcoming general election in April, on 23 January 2018 [Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images]

Rightly so, the spectre of Otzma Yehudit obtaining any role in a ruling coalition spooked Israel’s liberals and left-wing. The party is a self-described ideological descendent of rabbi Meir Kahane, an Orthodox Jewish-American who founded the Kach party. Kach advocated for the forcible removal of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and, after being elected to the Knesset in 1984, was declared racist by the Israeli government and banned from future political participation. Kahane’s teachings also inspired Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, in which 29 Palestinian worshippers were shot dead in the West Bank city of Hebron.

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Despite its protestations to the contrary, Otzma Yehudit’s ideology is equally abhorrent. Ben Ari has repeatedly called for the “enemies” of Israel to be expelled, defining these enemies as anyone who “supports Hamas or the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation], someone who supports terrorist groups, anyone who doesn’t want a Jewish state, anyone who thinks we are occupiers here, anyone who thinks it is forbidden for Jews to live in every place of the Land of Israel”.

The Likud-orchestrated deal and Otzma Yehudit’s extreme ideology prompted left-wing party Meretz and Israeli Labor Knesset Member (MK) Stav Shaffir to file petitions against the party, calling for........

© Middle East Monitor