Netanyahu backs repeal of ban on racist Knesset candidates, plans replacement law

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party said Sunday it backed controversial plans to repeal a law barring individuals who support terror and racism from running for Knesset, saying it was ineffective.

The statement, which was put out days after the Otzma Yehudit party sparked widespread consternation by revealing that the plan was included in coalition deals with Likud, claimed that the legislation would be replaced with a new bill to address alleged inequalities in the existing clause.

The current law “did not prevent racists and terror supporters from running for Knesset,” Likud said in a statement.

“Therefore, Netanyahu intends to cancel that clause and legislate a new law to fight racism and terror that will ensure equal and effective enforcement for both Jews and Arabs.”

The current law, clause 7a of the Basic Law: The Knesset, does not differentiate between Jews and Arabs. It states that no Knesset candidate can deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incite racism; or support an enemy state or a terrorist group or any armed struggle against the state.

On Thursday, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir said that his party was pushing for the ban to be lifted because it had been unfairly used against far-right colleagues.

Three members of his party have been banned from running for Knesset in recent years by courts citing the law.

Bentzi Gopstein (R) and Baruch Marzel seen during a press conference held by the Otzma Yehudit party in Jerusalem, August 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted sarcastically that “I agree with Likud that the current law has not prevented racists and terror supporters from entering the Knesset. Ben Gvir for instance.”

Ben Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organization in 2007 after carrying signs reading: “Kahane was right” and “Expel the Arab enemy,” but was nevertheless okayed by courts to run for office.

Responding to the Likud statement, Ben Gvir said he was not aware of any new law proposed by Likud, and said his Otzma Yehudit party would like to discuss the proposed law and ensure it doesn’t “only discriminate against Jews.”

“We’re used to an agreement being an agreement… This principle should be maintained if we are to establish a stable government,” Ben Gvir said in a jab at Netanyahu, laying bare tensions within the nascent coalition set to take power in the coming days.

He claimed that he would be open to a new law that barred some Arab and left-wing politicians from running.

“The purpose of canceling clause 7a. is to stop the injustice towards Jews alone,” Ben Gvir said, noting former Arab MKs Heba Yazbak, Haneen Zoabi, and Azmi Bishara as examples of lawmakers that according to him should have been disqualified but weren’t.

“If Likud is interested in a new bill, we’d like to discuss it. We too are not interested in seeing racism in the Knesset but are not interested in injustice and persecution of Jews alone while haters of Israel like [Hadash-Ta’al leader] Ayman Odeh is free to run for parliament,” the far-right lawmaker added.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir arrive for the swearing-in ceremony for the new Knesset, November 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Likud has yet to finalize the deal with Otzma Yehudit and is set to do so in the next few days.

Israel’s largest party and a right-wing powerhouse, Likud will be on the left flank of the incoming prime minister’s incoming coalition. Far-right Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionism and Noam, as well as Netanyahu’s long-time ultra-Orthodox partners Shas and United Torah Judaism, round out the 64-seat majority coalition in Israel’s 120-member Knesset.

Tobias Siegal and Ash Obel contributed to this report.

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