knesset countdown

Israeli airport closure even strands politicians

Labor candidate Nachman Shai says he was rejected twice when he applied for permission to return to Israel

Noam Moskowitz/dpa/AP

An Israeli family cast their votes at a polling station in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim in Israel's national election in March 2020.

With just one month until Israel’s national election on March 23, the polls show little movement, the campaign ads are proliferating and not all candidates are even able to enter the country. 

Stuck: Former MK Nachman Shai, who is running in the 8th spot on the Labor list, is currently in Atlanta and unable to return to Israel to campaign due to the closure of Israel’s airport. Shai, who works as a visiting professor at Duke and Emory universities, applied to the Israeli Exceptions Committee for permission to enter in order to campaign, but says his request was denied twice. Shai said he will be forced to appeal to the Supreme Court if his requests continue to be denied. The Israeli airport closure was extended last week through March 6, stranding thousands of Israelis around the world.

Ruling: The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on the decision of the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Ibtisam Mara’ana, the number 7 candidate in Labor. The committee, made up of representatives of the parties in the Knesset, voted 16-15 to disqualify Mara’ana over a series of social media posts criticizing Israel, including one that she enjoyed driving during the siren for Remembrance Day — something Mara’ana said she now regrets. Her disqualification is all but certain to be struck down by the Supreme Court, which has overturned the vast majority of such decisions in recent years. 

Judicial review: The Central Elections Committee voted against petitions to disqualify both the Joint List and the Ra’am Party filed by the extremist right-wing candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir. In the past several elections, Ben-Gvir has himself been the target of such petitions, and has repeatedly been disqualified by the committee only to have the disqualification overturned by the Supreme Court. Such petitions were not filed this year against Ben-Gvir, likely due to the inevitability of the court decision. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, meanwhile — whose party signed a vote-sharing agreement with Ben-Gvir’s National Religious Party — said the candidate has “a considerable measure of racism.”   

Latest polls: Election polls in Israel over the past few weeks have shown few fluctuations, with Likud continuing to dominate and the anti-Netanyahu vote split among the parties led by Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett. Most recent polls show Likud receiving 28-30 seats, Lapid’s Yesh Atid getting 16-19, Sa’ar’s New Hope 13-15 and Bennett’s Yamina 10-12. But neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc nor the anti-Netanyahu bloc appear to have a clear path to the 61 seats needed to form a governing coalition — leading many analysts to predict yet another election. 

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