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Netanyahu’s embrace of the racist Otzma Yehudit Party comes under widespread criticism

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2019

His future imperiled by prosecutors and political challengers, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outraged Jewish leaders in Israel, the U.S. and throughout the world by striking a bargain with a racist, anti-Arab party whose ideology was likened by one influential rabbi to Nazism.  
Mr. Netanyahu turned to the Otzma Yehudit or Jewish Power party whose leaders, The New York Times (Feb. 25, 2019) noted, "...have a long history of expressing support for violence against Palestinians, expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories, and a ban on intermarriage or sex between Jews and Arabs. Otzma Yehudit's leaders proudly call themselves disciples of Meir Kahane, the Brooklyn-born anti-Arab militant who served a term in Israel's Parliament in the 1980s before his Kach party was outlawed in Israel and declared a terrorist group by the United States. He was assassinated in 1990."  
The prime minister arranged for the group to merge into a somewhat more mainstream party of religious Zionists, the Jewish Home party. That pact could catapult Otzma Yehudit from the disreputable fringe into Israel's next government coalition.  
Even groups which rarely criticize the Israeli government, AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, called Otzma Yehudit's ideas "reprehensible" and refused any contacts with its leaders, even if they became part of a future government. Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem, a pillar of religious Zionism, warned that "the defilement and destruction of the land serves as a guarantee for the loss of the land." He lamented that the prime minister seemed concerned only with re-election and in a sermon from the pulpit of the Rambam Synagogue he likened Kahanism to Nazism and its ideas to the Nuremburg Laws. He wrote that, "The entry of the racist doctrine into the Knesset is the destruction of the Temple."  
Yohanon Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, said, "There's a difference between a racist party entering the Knesset---the fringes of Israeli democracy can unfortunately contain such elements ---and their being encouraged by the prime minister."  
A leader of the Jewish Home party. Bezalel Smotric. who could be handed a ministerial post in a new government, called himself "a proud homophobe," supported segregated maternity wards for Arab and Jewish women, and said Jewish developers should not have to sell homes to Arabs and favored a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian stone-throwers.  
Israeli historian and journalist Gershom Gorenburg wrote of Prime Minister Netanyu (Washington Post, (Feb. 24, 2019): "No Faustian bargain is beyond him. If the price of survival is turning Kahane's hate-spouting racist heirs from pariahs to partners, Netanyahu is willing. Unlike his alleged bribe taking, this pact is not illegal. Yet, historically, and morally, it is an even greater offense."  
A statement by eight American Jewish groups, including the New Israel Fund, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Reconstructionist movement declared: "We are outraged that right-wing political parties and their leadership have reversed course and opened the door for Kahanists to enter into the Israeli political mainstream.”  
At the same time a cycle of violence by extremist Jewish settler groups is growing in the West Bank. In February, in the town of Deir Dibwan a mosque was vandalized with a Star of David painted on the exterior. Israel's security agency, Shin Bet, documented 295 of what it calls "Jewish terror" incidents last year. The United Nations has recorded at least 30 incidents this year in which Israeli settlers were accused of causing casualties or damaging property. Israeli monitoring groups say the surge in settler violence reflects a lack of Israeli law enforcement. The Israeli human rights group B'tselem says that terrorist activity goes beyond "a few rotten apples" and says the Israeli government ignores extremist violence because it helps settlers expand their West Bank presence. •

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