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Israel court bars extreme-right election candidate Ben-Ari

Court also backs candidate from Hadash party, Ofer Kassif, and approves two main Palestinian alliances
Leader of Israel's extreme-right Jewish Power party, Michael Ben-Ari (AFP/file photo)

Israel's supreme court on Sunday disqualified the controversial leader of the extreme-right Jewish Power party, Michael Ben-Ari, from running in next month's elections.

Ben-Ari has come under fire for comments he made about Palestinian citizens of Israel, which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said earlier this month amount to "incitement to racism".

The elections committee had approved Ben-Ari to run in the April polls, but the opposition left-wing Meretz party successfully appealed the decision to the supreme court.

"The place of people who believe in the superiority of race is behind bars not in parliament," said Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg in a statement.

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The attorney general previously accused Ben-Ari of "inciting on an ethnic-nationalistic basis against the Arab population" and "calling for a violent renunciation of the Arab population's rights".

According to Jewish Power, his disqualification marks the first time a candidate approved by the committee has been banned from standing in elections.

In a news conference following the ruling, Ben-Ari said "a judicial junta is trying to impose its laws... it's not democracy".

Jewish Power members are followers of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was labelled a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seen as leading the most right-wing government in Israel's history, brokered a deal to see Jewish Power join with two far-right parties to create a single electoral list.

Netanyahu's bid for reelection has been challenged by a centrist newcomer, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz. Their escalating exchanges of allegations have included corruption, bigotry, forsaking national security and abetting Israel's foes, Reuters reported.

In response to Ben Ari’s disqualification, Gantz said: “It’s good that there are judges in Jerusalem,” Haaretz reported.

The premier's partnership with Jewish Power also drew rare censure from the US pro-Israel lobby and normally staunch Netanyahu backer AIPAC, which branded the party "racist and reprehensible".

The supreme court approved Jewish Power's second candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to stand in polls.

It also backed a candidate from the leftist Hadash party, Ofer Kassif, and approved the two main Palestinian alliances - Hadash-Taal and Raam-Balad.

A Raam-Balad spokeswoman welcomed the move, describing the committee's earlier ban as "a political decision".

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