Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing backlash from mainstream pro-Israel organizations after taking a significant role in helping to to create a united nationalist list in the upcoming parliamentary elections on April 9. The list is made up of the Jewish Home and National Union factions, both of whom had already agreed to run together several weeks ago, and as of last week, the more ingrained nationalist faction of “Otzma Yehudit.”
“American Jewish Committee does not normally comment on political parties and candidates during elections. But with the announcement that Otzma Yehudit (“The Jewish Power”) a new political party formed by longtime followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is now seeking election to the Knesset, we feel compelled to speak out,” the AJC stated added that “the views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible.”
AIPAC also joined in condemning Otzma Yehudit stressing that “the committee has for many years been careful not to meet members of this racist and despicable party.”
Otzma Yehudit was always considered by the political establishment in Israel and abroad to be verboten in Israeli political discourse due to the attachment its leaders and members have to many of the teachings of the late Israeli nationalist political figure, Rabbi Meir Kahane. The establishment in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora viewed Rabbi Kahane to be an infamous figurehead at least as far back as 1988 when Israel’s Knesset outlawed the political party of Rabbi Kahane, known as “Kach,” under the charge that the party’s principles were in violation of a revised amendment to Israel’s Election Law that banned any “incitement to racism.”
Netanyahu’s help in negotiating an agreed list among all three factions was no doubt an ironic one as his right-wing Likud party had united with other mainstream political parties to ban Kach in 1988. Some pundits have explained the decision back then as a power play preventing Kach from taking big gains in the following elections at the expense of the Likud.
This time around, the head of the Likud party helped to enlarge the nationalist list primarily to secure the chances of continuing his term as Prime Minister. Had the Jewish Home and National Union run separately from Otzma Yehudit, there would have been a good chance none of the factions would have passed the electoral threshold of 3.25% and thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of nationalist votes would have been completely wasted. With the three factions united, it is all but guaranteed that a half dozen Members of Knesset or more in the next Knesset will be from the hardcore nationalist camp.