Reality Check: Even AIPAC has had enough

Netanyahu’s creation of a racist, unholy alliance on the religious Right finally proves too much for his American supporters.

Baruch Marzel with supporters. File photo (photo credit: HAVAKUK LEVISON / REUTERS)
Baruch Marzel with supporters. File photo
Next month’s annual AIPAC conference in Washington promises to be interesting. For the first time in his political career, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer the automatic darling of this powerful pro-Israel lobby.
Finally, with its tweet at the weekend, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has dared to take a principled stand against Netanyahu. By supporting the American Jewish Committee’s statement blasting last week’s merger deal between the Bayit Yehudi Party and the extremist Otzma Yehudit Party, a move devised and delivered by Netanyahu, AIPAC has placed the well-being of Israel’s democratic health above its regular Pavlovian backing for the prime minister.
In the past, AIPAC always willingly provided Netanyahu with a supportive setting to promote his narrow agenda, even when the prime minister used it to attack the American president, as he did in 2015 when he fiercely criticized Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. For all of AIPAC’s claims of neutrality in terms of Israel’s domestic politics, Israeli prime ministers on the Left – Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak – tended to view the organization as Likud-supporting and unhelpful in advancing Israeli peace initiatives.
Of course, AIPAC is not the first among conservative circles in the United States to come to realize the danger Netanyahu and his policies pose to Israel. Senior Republican, one time Netanyahu intimate and president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder was the first to raise the warning flag, in a passionate New York Times op-ed last summer.
Writing shortly after the passing of the Nation-State Law, which disastrously undermines the country’s commitment to equality for all its citizens, the billionaire Trump supporter listed a series of other government moves – the cancellation of the agreement for an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall, strict conversion laws, surrogacy legislation that excluded gay men – that he said created “the impression that the democratic and egalitarian dimensions of the Jewish democratic state are being tested.”
Furthermore, Lauder warned, such types of legislation would weaken the already loose ties between Israel and young secular American Jews, unlikely to “acquiesce to an affiliation with a nation that discriminates against non-Orthodox Jews, non-Jewish minorities and the LGBT community.”
But that is just one person’s opinion, no matter how wealthy or well-connected that person happens to be. However, when AIPAC tweets against the prime minister – even though Netanyahu is not mentioned by name – a new level of rebuke has been reached. And this dressing-down is well deserved.
INDEED, NETANYAHU’S role in bringing Otzma Yehudit – a “racist and reprehensible party,” to use AIPAC’s unusually strident words – into the mainstream of Israeli politics through its partnership with Bayit Yehudi is a new low for even a cynical a politician like our prime minister. Not even Netanyahu’s polished English and superb presentation skills can gloss over such malignant behavior, in Washington. It’s sadly telling that, in Jerusalem, no one on the mainstream Right, aside from Yifat Ehrlich, had the courage to oppose this cancerous merger.
In his frantic desire to ensure that votes on the Right do not go to waste when extremist parties fail to pass the electoral threshold, Netanyahu shamelessly intervened in the internal affairs of a rival political party. He bribed the spineless Bayit Yehudi with promises he is unlikely to keep, should he win the elections, and pressured its leadership into providing Otzma Yehudit with a kashrut certificate, creating the most unholy alliance the religious Right has ever presented to the Israeli public.
The next time Netanyahu gets up on his high horse to lecture the Poles about antisemitism, or harangue Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the latter’s lauding of terrorists, he should first take a moment to reflect on the list of characters he now actively supports.
Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben-Ari, a fervent disciple of the late Kach leader Meir Kahane, supports ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens, and repeatedly voiced discontent at the lack of Palestinian fatalities during Operation Pillar of Defense. Other members of Otzma Yehudit’s rogues’ gallery include former Kahane aide Baruch Marzel, who holds a party every year at Baruch Goldstein’s grave to honor the murderer of 29 Palestinians; Bentzi Gopstein, whose Lehava group violently opposes marriages between Jews and non-Jews; and Itamar Ben-Gvir, an attorney who specializes in defending right-wing activists accused of Jewish terrorism.
These are the racists Netanyahu is happily prepared to sit with in the Knesset, should they provide him with another tenure as prime minister.
As the saying has it, you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.