A woman sorts ballot boxes as part of preparations for the upcoming Israeli election, during a briefing for members of the media at the Israel Central Election Committee Logistics Center in Shoham, Israe. Image Credit: Reuters

Occupied Jerusalem: A decision by Israel’s electoral committee to ban two Palestinian parties and a candidate from a third Palestinian-led slate from running in elections, while allowing a far-right-wing candidate despite recommendations from the attorney general to ban him, was sharply criticised Thursday by leaders of Israel’s Palestinian community.

The ruling was called unreasonable and racist, and it sparked fears among Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinians citizens that they could be further politically marginalised ahead of April 9 parliamentary elections.

The decision to ban the parties, which are running on a united ticket, and candidate, Ofer Cassif, followed petitions submitted by three right-wing factions, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.

The two parties and Cassif now plan to appeal to the Supreme Court next week, and a panel of nine judges will make a final ruling on whether they can run in elections for the parliament, called the Knesset.

Adalah, a legal center advocating for Palestinian minority rights in Israel, said the bans were politically motivated, “reflecting the McCarthyist persecution of those whose views are not acceptable to Israel’s political right.”

Hassan Jabareen, the group’s general director, said that there have long been attempts to disqualify Palestinian candidates but that this was the first time a Jewish candidate was banned for holding left-wing views.

He said this was due to a deal struck recently between Netanyahu and the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and because of a nationalistic nation-state law - which declared Israel a national homeland for Jews and prioritised Jewish-only communities - passed last year.

Palestinian citizens constitute about 20 per cent of Israel’s population.

Since the country was founded in 1948, Palestinians have been encouraged to run for political office, and in the election prior, an amalgamation of four Palestinian-led parties known as the Joint List became the third-largest faction in the Knesset.

But that arrangement broke down, leading to two separate slates.

The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) joined with the Palestinian Movement for Renewal (Ta’al), and the National Democratic Assembly (Balad) joined with the United Palestinian List (Ra’am). Recent polls project Hadash-Ta’al to win nine seats in the 120-seat parliament and Balad-Ra’am to gain about five.

The Central Elections Committee decision to ban Balad-Ra’am and Cassif came hours after it rejected a petition submitted by left-wing parties and a recommendation by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to stop Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari from running.

Translated as “Jewish Power,” Otzma Yehudit includes followers of the extremist US-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose original party, Kach, was outlawed in Israel and is designated as a terrorist organisation in the United States.

To widespread criticism, Netanyahu last month reached a deal with the group, paving the way for it to gain at least one seat in the Knesset.

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh said it was ironic that “Kahanists, who believe Israel should be only for the Jews and that the Palestinian population should be forcibly transferred, are now seen as legitimate, while those who advocate for peace are not allowed to run for the Knesset.”

While the case for Balad-Ra’am and Cassif will be heard next week by the Supreme Court, some Palestinian politicians are worried that the electoral committee’s decision will further sideline Palestinian citizens and discourage them from going to the polls.

Balad candidate Heba Yazbak said that Palestinian voters already felt marginalised and that if the ban on her party is not reversed, calls to boycott from within her community would be magnified.

“What is happening in Israel today is very dangerous,” she said. “And we are worried that the coming government will make us feel even more excluded from this country.”