The intense efforts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu devoted to bring the far-right Otzma Yehudit party into a union with Bayit Yehudi, and likely into the Knesset, has evoked strong opposition from numerous quarters. The American Jewish Committee described Otzma’s positions as “reprehensible,” AIPAC concurred, the Anti-Defamation League criticized the “hate-filled rhetoric” of the party, several other organizations denounced Otzma leaders as followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane who advanced racist policies and laws during his time as an MK, while prominent National-Religious leader Rabbi Benny Lau equated the party with Nazism.
What, then, is the Otzma’s party platform and what do its leaders say? Two of the most important elements of the Otzma’s party platform, as outlined on its website, relate to its view of the Arab and Palestinian population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. One of these clauses relates to “the enemies of Israel,” and states: “War against the enemies of Israel will be total, without negotiations, without concessions and without compromises.” This clause adds that it will advance a policy for “the imposition of sovereignty over all parts of the Land of Israel that were liberated in the Six-Day War, and the resolution of the status of Israel’s enemies in the Arab countries surrounding our country.” The next clause of party’s platform states: “Otzma Yehudit will work to remove the enemies of Israel from our country. A national authority for encouraging emigration will be established. The Jewish People returned to Zion, and the enemies of Israel will return to their countries of origin.” The platform also calls for “the restoration of Israeli sovereignty and ownership” over the Temple Mount, and says that the government should be “a Jewish democracy, which protects the values of the nation-state of the Jews as a value that supersedes all universal values.” Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Itamar Ben-Gvir – who is placed eighth on the joint Bayit Yehudi-Otzma list, said that anyone who is loyal to the State of Israel is welcome to stay, but “the enemies of Israel do not need to be here.” He defined an “enemy of Israel” as “someone who wants to wipe out the State of Israel, someone who doesn’t want a Jewish state, someone who doesn’t want Jews in Israel, who wants to expel us, and destroy us. Someone who does terror attacks here, someone who throws stones and petrol bombs and someone who murders Jews. That is the definition of an enemy of Israel.” Baruch Marzel, a senior member of Otzma and a Kahane devotee who headed Kahane’s banned racist party Kach after Kahane’s murder in 1990, told the Post that an enemy of Israel is “someone who supports Hamas or the PLO, someone who supports terrorist groups, anyone who doesn’t want a Jewish state, anyone who thinks we are occupiers here, anyone who thinks it is forbidden for Jews to live in every place of the Land of Israel and people who fight against the Jewish people.” interview for The Land of Israel podcast, Marzel said that he believed that “the majority” of Arab citizens of Israel are enemies, “but not all of them. I’m not including 100%.”In a recent
Otzma’s platform talks of “encouraging” Arab emigration from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, but does not stipulate what kind of encouragement will be sought. Asked on The Land of Israel Network how to encourage Arabs to leave Israel, Marzel said that financial inducements would be used and that billions of dollars would be required to resettle them in different countries, saying that “we have to use the Jewish brain to find the right way to do it with no blood or aggression.” Asked if the enemies of Israel can be forcibly expelled, Ben-Gvir was evasive, saying: “We do not want to expel all Arabs as a group. Those who are loyal, fine. We will not come to Umm el-Fahm and expel all of Umm el-Fahm. I don’t think like that. But someone who is not loyal needs to be sent away from here.” The party also calls for the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, but its platform does not talk about what civil or democratic rights will be afforded Palestinians in the West Bank within a greater Israel. Asked if Palestinians in the West Bank would be given citizenship and the right to vote in the State of Israel after annexation of the West Bank, Ben-Gvir declined to answer numerous times, and then terminated the conversation, saying that the questions were “biased” and designed “to help the campaign of the far Left against Otzma Yehudit.” Despite the obvious legal problems with annexing a territory without giving all residents full civil and democratic rights, Otzma is not the only party to propose this. The National Union party, which is also part of the current political union with Bayit Yehudi and currently has two MKs in the Knesset, proposed such a policy in 2017. So what about the views of Otzma’s leaders? Michael Ben-Ari, who was an MK for the National Union from 2009 to 2013, is once again a candidate for Knesset and has been given the number five slot on the joint list, meaning that he is likely to make it into the Knesset. In an interview with Ynet in 2009, Ben-Ari, who calls himself a student of Kahane, said that “it is not just me who represents Rabbi Kahane, he is represented today by many people.” Asked in the same interview about his vision for the Temple Mount, Ben-Ari said that “the party’s rabbis will decide” how and when to rebuild the Temple, but that his personal opinion was that “it is a mitzvah [religious commandment] to build a house for God and offer sacrifices there, and this should be carried out like any other mitzvah.” Ben-Ari did not respond to an interview request for this article, and Ben-Gvir declined to answer the question as part of the “far Left campaign” against Otzma. Ben-Ari’s political activism began with Kahane’s Kach party and he was denied a visa to enter the US in 2012 based on his previous membership of Kach, which is listed by the US State Department as a terrorist organization based on its declared support for violence against Palestinians. Marzel served as a parliamentary aide to Kahane, headed Kach after Kahane’s murder in 1990, and served as Ben-Ari’s parliamentary aide from 2009 to 2013. Marzel was Otzma’s Knesset candidate in 2015 within the Otzma-Yahad political union and was included in Otzma’s own electoral list but is not on the joint list with Bayit Yehudi. In 1992 he was convicted by a court for his role in riots in Bat Yam and sentenced to two months suspended jail sentence. In 2003, he was convicted of attacking a police officer during the evacuation of the Havat Gilad settlement outpost. Bentzi Gopstein, who was also on Otzma’s electoral list before the union with Bayit Yehudi but is not on the joint-list, declares himself to be a student and follower of Kahane and was a member of Kach. He runs the Lehava organization, which opposes intimate Jewish-Arab relationships and threatens violence against Arab men who date or try to date Jewish women. Three members of Lehava were convicted in 2015 of the arson attack in 2014 against a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem. Gopstein was quoted by an undercover reporter for Ynet in 2015 as saying: “This dangerous cancer of coexistence has metastasized everywhere,” and criticized government ministers for promoting coexistence. At the wedding of his daughter in 2013, he told a Channel 2 reporter that it was a condition of his to ensure that there were no Arabs working at the events hall where the wedding was held. With us we have the purity of Jewish labor,” said Gopstein. “Let’s just say that if there was an Arab waiter here, he would not be serving food. He would be looking for the closest hospital.”