Netanyahu-Brokered Deal to Bring Kahanists Into Knesset Draws Concern of US Pro-Israel Groups
A number of pro-Israel US groups and figures, as well as Middle East analysts, have weighed in with concern following the political deal brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that could bring followers of the late far-right extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane into the next Knesset, after the April elections.
Seeking to prevent the wasting of right-wing votes, Netanyahu — who heads the Likud party — agreed to give two cabinet posts to the HaBayit HaYehudi party on the condition that it merged with the smaller Otzma Yehudit party, which has a Kahanist outlook.
Running on its own, Otzma Yehudit — whose leaders include Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein — likely would not have won any Knesset seats.
Kahane, a US-born rabbi, served one term in the Knesset in the 1980s as head of the Kach party, which advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians to neighboring Arab countries and also called for a ban on intermarriage between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
Kahane’s movement was subsequently banned from Israeli politics as racist. He was assassinated in 1990 in New York by an Egyptian-born American.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on Wednesday, “There should be no room for racism & no accommodation for intolerance in Israel or any democracy.”
The ADL, he added, “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.”
Greenblatt’s predecessor at the ADL, Abraham Foxman, tweeted, “Legitimizing racist candidates in the forthcoming Israeli election undermines Israeli democracy and its values. There is still time to reconsider this cynical political step.”
Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tweeted, “In 1981, I spent a day w/#Kahane as college journalist following #Israel’s election. Virtually alone w/him in his campaign tent, I’ll never forget him lecturing me on need to ban sex btw Jews & Arabs. I fear for any democracy that mainstreams such hate.”
Ex-US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro pointed out that Kach had been blacklisted as a terror group by the US State Department in the 1990s.
“Of course, no votes have been cast or counted yet,” he tweeted. “These candidates may not be elected. But if they do get into the Knesset, US officials may once again have to decide how to relate to MKs with plausible ties to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
Former State Department negotiator Aaron David Miller tweeted, “Netanyahu uses cutouts to bring racist Kahanists into a merger with one of his coalition partners. But he’s the driving force. A day (FDR actually said date) that will live in infamy in his politics and Israel’s.”
Ann Lewis — a co-chair of the Democratic Majority for Israel group — stated, “Because we at Democratic Majority for Israel believe in a strong and democratic Israel, we are compelled to speak out against the possibility that followers of radical racist Meir Kahane could enter Israel’s parliament.”
“Making such individuals parliamentarians would be an insult to the ideals embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and the principles espoused by every previous Israeli prime minister from every party,” she continued. “We recognize that past Israeli governments and courts have banned the group to which these individuals belonged from participating in elections because of their incitement to racism. We have faith that Israeli voters will reject the representation of such values in their institutions.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America tweeted, “For those of us who care about Israel’s future, this is a deeply concerning political development that goes against our core values. Extremists must not be legitimized in Israel, the U.S. or anywhere else.”
Most pro-Israel US groups on the center and right of the political spectrum did not comment on the matter.