Jewish groups speak out against union of Bayit Yehudi with Otzma Party

"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.”

February 27, 2019 10:16
3 minute read.
Baruch Marzel and MK Michael Ben-Ari at airport

Baruch Marzel and MK Michael Ben-Ari at airport 390. (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)


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Several Jewish groups have spoken out against the decision of Bayit Yehudi to join with the extremist Otzma Yehudit Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in exerting heavy pressure on Bayit Yehudi to bring in Otzma.

Head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, tweeted on Wednesday that “There should be no room for racism & no accommodation for intolerance in Israel or any democracy,” adding that the ADL has criticized the “hate-filled rhetoric” of Otzma Yehudit leaders in the past.

Two central figures in Otzma Yehudit are Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel, both disciples and close associates of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the racist Kach Party on which much of Otzma Yehudit’s own ideology is based.

“It is troubling that they are being legitimized by this union,” added Greenblatt, although he did not mention that Netanyahu was heavily involved in the decision and promised Bayit Yehudi two ministerial posts if they agreed to the merger.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said in a statement that he denounced the racist ideology of Kahane, and noting that Kahanist organizations are still defined as terror groups by the US State Department.

He also implicitly criticized Netanyahu for bringing Otzma Yehudit together with Bayit Yehudi, saying that “elected leaders have a sacred responsibility to protect Israelis from violent extremists – not promote them,” although did not mention the prime minister by name.

“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,” Sokatch said. “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. Whether it’s in the United States or in Israel, we stand with all Israelis and against those who use violence, terror, and supremacist ideologies to divide and rule by fear.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism in the US, also expressed condemnation over Netanyahu’s efforts to bring Otzma into the Knesset.

“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,” he tweeted Wednesday night. “Bolstering one’s political strength with those who profess racist views should be unthinkable.”

The  left-wing T’ruah organization of liberal rabbis described Otzma Yehudit as “the reincarnation of Kahane’s party, Kach,” and said that Israel was endangered by “a government that welcomes extremists who celebrate violence and preach genocide.”

“We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to reject any coalition with Kahane’s disciples, and we demand that the IRS ensure that American taxpayer dollars will no longer support these dangerous extremists,” T’ruah concluded, in reference to tax-exempt funding Israeli organizations associated with Kahanist groups enjoy.

The Democratic Majority for Israel, a new lobbying group associated with the Democratic Party which describes itself as pro-Israel and in favor of progressive values, also spoke out against the steps taken to bring Otzma into the Knesset.

“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,” said the organization’s co-chair, Ann Lewis. “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.”

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