Major Jewish Groups Mum On Netanyahu’s Deal With Extremist Party

Aiden Pink and Ari FeldmanFebruary 20, 2019As liberal and progressive Jewish groups assailed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s deal to return supporters of the racist rabbi Meir Kahane to the Israeli Knesset, most leading American Jewish groups are keeping silent.

Nine major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America, did not respond to questions from the Forward about Netanyahu’s successful efforts to merge the national-religious Jewish Home party with Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” a small party led by disciples of Kahane. The merger all but guarantees the Kahanist party a seat in the Knesset.

Only the Anti-Defamation League, the Reform Jewish movement and a handful of smaller progressive groups, including the New Israel Fund and J Street, condemned the political maneuver.

“There should be no room for racism & no accommodation for intolerance in Israel or any democracy,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on Wednesday. “ADL previously has spoken out on hate-filled rhetoric of leaders of the Otzma Yehudit Party. It is troubling that they are being legitimized by this union.”

Netanyahu was reportedly instrumental in the merger, promising Jewish Home party that he would let them control two top government ministries and seats in the security cabinet if they merged with Otzma Yehudit.

Otzma Yehudit is led by three of the most prominent living followers of Kahane, who was assassinated in November 1990. Kahane’s former political party, Kach, was banned from Israeli elections for racism in 1988, and then banned entirely under anti-terrorism laws in 1994. Kach and another Kahanist group, Kahane Chai, are currently designated foreign terror organizations by the U.S. State Department.

Both Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit were unlikely to receive enough votes to qualify for the Knesset on their own in next month’s elections. Now, the merger will ensure a strengthened far-right faction that will push Netanyahu to annex portions of the West Bank and build more settlements. If Jewish Home earns at least five seats in the Knesset, the fifth slot will go to a Otzma Yehudit member.

Spokespeople from AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, UJA-Federation of New York, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Zionist Organization of America did not respond to a question about the merger from the Forward.

The groups that did speak about the merger were largely critical. In an emailed statement, the left-wing Israel lobby J Street said that the merger “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.” J Street called on pro-Israel organizations and US officials to condemn the move.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American Jewish denomination, also criticized the merger. “It’s morally outrageous to imagine that those who follow in the footsteps of R. Meir Kahana could be welcomed into PM Netanyahu’s political circle,” Jacobs tweeted. “Bolstering one’s political strength with those who profess racist views should be unthinkable.”

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, an organization that has called for IRS investigations of Kahanist groups, said in a statement that Otzma Yehudit was comprised of “extremists who celebrate violence and preach genocide.”

The New Israel Fund, a regular target of criticism from the Israeli right, also condemned the merger. “For decades, people who care about Israel across the political spectrum have largely agreed that Kahanists are a danger to Israeli democracy and have no place in its parliament,” New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch said in a statement. “It is both horrifying and very revealing that Kahanists are now returning to the political arena and are being courted and embraced by right-wing parties and their leadership.”

The sole supportive statement came from the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization for a group of Orthodox synagogues. “We understand what Prime Minister Netanyahu did, and he did it to have ministers of the national religious and national union parties in his coalition,” National Council of Young Israel president Farley Weiss said in a statement. “Previously, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Otzma is not racist and has a right to run in the elections. We understand the Prime Minister’s actions.”

Kahane was an American-born Israeli rabbi who advocated that all Jews move to Israel and completely displace the Arab population there. Kahane openly advocated militant reaction to anti-Semitism, drawing inspiration for his Jewish Defense League from Black Power groups in the 1970s.

Many Kahane disciples have remained public figures, including Otzma Yehudit leaders Baruch Marzel, who once served as Kach’s secretary, and Bentzi Gopstein, who has also called to expel Christians and justified burning down local churches.

The third Otzma Yehudit leader, Michael Ben-Ari, was reportedly denied a visa to enter the U.S. in 2012 because of his ties to such groups. In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ben-Ari refused to denounce Kahane.

Ben-Ari previously served in the Knesset from 2009 to 2013 as a member of the now-defunct National Union party.

At a meeting Wednesday evening, members of Jewish Home’s central committee voted overwhelmingly to accept the merger with Otzma Yehudit. The Times of Israel reported that, though there was widespread opposition to the merger within Jewish Home, the deal passed because members feared that their party would not otherwise meet the vote threshold for seats in the Knesset. The party has lost support since the departure of three of its top members to firm a new national religious party, called New Right.

“Our answer to those who want to destroy our home is unity,” Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz said at the meeting.

Read more:


Likud falls behind in first polls after Gantz-Lapid merger

Former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz and opposition politician Yair Lapid [Twitter]

Former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz and opposition politician Yair Lapid [Twitter]

Three separate polls commissioned in the immediate aftermath of the merger of Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) and Yesh Atid have given the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) ticket a lead over Likud, reported Haaretz.

Ahead of the deadline for the submission of electoral lists, former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz and opposition politician Yair Lapid announced that they would run together in the election.

Gantz had already joined forces with former military chief Moshe Ya’alon, and the newly-expanded ticket further includes another former military chief, Gabi Ashkenazi.

READ: Israel’s Gantz and Lapid merge lists, agree premier rotation

Three polls all gave the new Kahol Lavan list a lead over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party.

A Channel 12 poll showed the party would get 36 seats in the next Knesset, while Likud would receive 30, while Channel 13’s poll gave Kahol Lavan 36 seats, compared to 26 for Likud.

Public broadcaster Kan’s poll, meanwhile, predicted 35 seats for Kahol Lavan, and Likud following up with 32.

Channel 12 also asked respondents who they preferred as prime minister, with 37 per cent of those surveyed opting for Netanyahu, and 36 per cent said they favoured Gantz and Lapid.

Modest Netanyahu – “I am ready to leave my position tomorrow as prime minister, but I have no one to leave the keys with” – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s Joint List splits into 2 election alliances

Israel’s Joint List has split into two separate alliances ahead of the country’s upcoming general election, with Ta’al head Ahmad Tibi backing down on his determination to run alone.

With just moments to spare before the deadline to declare their electoral slates last night, the former Joint List parties announced that they would contest Israel’s general election on 9 April as two alliances.

The first is to be comprised of the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al), headed by Ahmad Tibi, and Hadash, headed by Ayman Odeh. The second alliance will be comprised of the former Joint List’s two remaining parties: the National Democratic Union (Balad) and the United Arab List (Ra’am).

The Ta’al-Hadash alliance will be jointly led by Odeh and Tibi and will feature seasoned Knesset members (MKs) Yousef Jabareen and Aida Touma-Sliman, as well as a host of new faces. Ofer Cassif was placed fifth on the slate, replacing Dov Khenin as the party’s only Jewish-Israeli candidate, the Times of Israelreported.

READ: Just 9% of Israel voters say conflict with Palestinians is top concern

Despite agreeing to be co-leaders of the new alliance, that Tibi has been placed second on the ticket will likely be seen as a blow for the veteran MK, who until yesterday was adamant that his Ta’al party would run alone. Tibi broke away from the Joint List in January, citing disagreements with the other parties over the distribution of seats within the alliance. Odeh slammed Tibi’s decision, saying: “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is the one who would like to see the Joint List break apart most, and the extreme Right would love to divide and rule the Arabs.”

Initially, there was concern that Ta’al would not meet the 3.25 per cent of the vote – which usually translates into four seats – needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset. However, early polls demonstrated that Tibi could win 43 per cent of Palestinian citizens of Israel’s vote, compared to only 38 per cent for the remainder of the Joint List, which would have translated into about six seats.

Less is known about the second alliance comprised of Balad and Ra’am. Ra’am is generally popular with Palestinian Bedouin voters, most of whom live in the Negev (Naqab) desert in southern Israel, and is seen as supporting Palestinian national positions. Balad is also a nationalist party, meaning the two parties’ shared values make them a natural fit for cooperation.

In yesterday’s negotiations, Balad and Ra’am were reluctant to join forces with Hadash – whose communist roots differ greatly from the two parties’ nationalist outlook – without bringing Ta’al back into the fold and reinstating the full Joint List. Mtanes Shihadeh, who earlier this month secured the top spot on Balad’s slate, said that “there are points that we do not agree on [with Hadash] in terms of policy and list formation”.

READ: Ultra-right Jewish Power to compete in Israel elections with Jewish Home

Yesterday’s deadline to declare the slates saw a frenzy of activity from all parties contesting the upcoming election. The biggest shock came from Israel’s centre, as Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party joined forces with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Announcing in a statement that the pair had held “marathon, all-night talks”, the new Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance will see Gantz and Lapid rotate the premiership, each serving for two and a half years.

Two polls conducted since the announcement have suggested that the new alliance could oust Netanyahu’s Likud party from government. A poll by Israel’s Channel 12 showed that Kahol Lavan would get 36 seats in the next Knesset, while Likud would receive 30. Channel 13’s poll, meanwhile, predicted Kahol Lavan would get 36 seats, compared to 26 for Likud.