To Save Himself, Netanyahu Empowers Israel’s Most Racist Extremists

February 20, 2019

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s effort to bring the ultra-right, extreme racist Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party into a potential new governing coalition is disgraceful and dangerous. It shows that there may be no red line Netanyahu will not cross in his desperate effort to remain in office, no matter how much damage he does to Israel in the process. We call on US officials and pro-Israel organizations to condemn Netanyahu’s efforts to bring these extreme racists into Israel’s next government.

Otzma Yehudit’s leaders and platform are directly inspired by the legacy and views of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach party. In the 1980s, Israel’s Central Elections Committee identified Kahane and Kach as “manifestly racist” and disqualified them from running for office. In the 1990s, the Israeli government made Kach officially illegal under Israeli anti-terrorism laws for inciting violence against Arabs and praising Baruch Goldstein’s horrific murder of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The US State Department has listed Kach as a foreign terror organization since 1997.

Today, Otzma Yehudit upholds the Kahanist agenda. In addition to supporting full annexation of the West Bank and opposing any negotiation with Palestinians, the party calls for Israel to seize control of the Temple Mount and to pursue the mass deportation of Palestinians from Israel and the Palestinian territory. It is an explicitly racist party of Jewish supremacists, which some in the Israeli media have compared to the Klu Klux Klan. One of Otzma Yehudit’s leaders and likely future MKs, Michael Ben-Ari, was banned from entering the US in 2012 because of his ties to Kahane and Kach. Another leader, former Kach activist Itamar Ben Gvir, was involved in attempts to target and harass Yitzhak Rabin in the weeks leading up to Rabin’s eventual assassination. Another leader, Baruch Marzel, has defended violent attacks on LGBTQ Israelis.

Mainstream Israeli politicians used to treat Kahane and his disciples as beyond the pale — but no longer. Netanyahu is determined to ensure that Otzma Yehudit enters the Knesset in April’s elections and helps him form a new ultra-right government. He has therefore brokered an agreement in which Otzma will run on a joint slate with Habayit Hayehudi — itself a far-right party which includes racist demagogues like MK Bezalel Smotrich. To cement the agreement, the prime minister has reportedly offered Habayit Hayehudi the education and housing ministries in his next government, portfolios which will position them to further entrench occupation, displace Palestinians and spread anti-Arab ideology.

As Israel’s prime minister and ruling party openly makes common cause with proponents of ethnic cleansing and right-wing terror, pro-Israel Americans cannot remain silent. To ignore or dismiss this development as mere political maneuvering is to enable a politics of hatred.

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