Arab and Jewish election hopefuls swap insults at Israeli court

Jerusalem: Candidates from an extreme-right Jewish party and an Arab alliance screamed abuse at each other Thursday outside an Israeli court where judges are weighing their fitness to run in April polls.

“Terrorist, your place is not here,” Jewish Power’s Itamar Ben-Gvir yelled as he stood eyeball to eyeball with Ata Abu Medeghem of Raam-Balad in the corridors of the Supreme Court building.

“You’re just racist trash,” Abu Medeghem retorted while TV news crews recorded the altercation.

Israel’s Central Elections Committee last week voted to bar Raam-Balad, one of two main Arab alliances running in the April 9 general election over alleged support for violent resistance.

Its candidacy had been challenged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, under laws disqualifying those who challenge the definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or who back armed opposition to it.

The committee of lawmakers however approved as candidates two members of Jewish Power, which many view as racist, Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben-Ari.

Raam-Balad appealed against its ban to the Supreme Court and other opposition MPs petitioned the court to overturn the committee’s approval of the Jewish Power members.

After four hours of separate hearings on each petition the panel of nine justices retired without handing down any decision.

Raam-Balad is fiercely critical of Israeli policies, particularly the occupation of Palestinian territory.

The committee’s decision to bar it from running went against a recommendation by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said the evidence presented against the party was old and a previous attempt to disqualify it had been overruled in court.

“We are in favour of revoking the citizenship against those who betray the state and for the death sentence against the terrorists. How is this racist?” Ben-Gvir asked the judges at his hearing Thursday.

“They violate human rights, incite hatred and violence and support terrorist acts,” countered Gilad Kari, lawyer for the those seeking to have the Jewish Power candidates disqualified.

“They have no place in the democratic game.”

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.