Australian Jews join chorus condemning deal with extremist Israeli party

Australian Jews join chorus condemning deal with extremist Israeli party

Zionist Federation of Australia slams merger brokered by Netanyahu between Jewish Home and Kahanist Otzma Yehudit, says ‘electoral gains should never justify sacrificing’ values

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO via Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO via Flash90)

The Zionist Federation of Australia on Monday joined a mounting chorus of condemnation from Diaspora Jews of a deal brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that saw the formation of a union between the right-wing Jewish Home party and the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) faction led by former disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

The deal was facilitated by Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen the position of a possible Likud-led coalition after the April 9 vote.

In a statement, the ZFA said that while it does not typically comment on the “internal political machinations of the State of Israel,” the news that Otzma Yehudit “are forming an alliance and could be part of a future governing coalition has compelled the ZFA to express its deep concern regarding such a union.”

The statement called the Kahanist ideology behind Otzma Yehudit “deplorable racist views which are entirely inconsistent with the principles on which the modern State of Israel was founded.”

Jeremy Leibler (Courtesy/Zionist Federation of Australia)

“As a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, Israel’s Knesset has a proud history of promoting the rule of law, equality and freedom, irrespective of race, religion, gender or ethnicity,” said ZFA President Jeremy Leibler.

“The ideology of Jewish Power is antithetical to these important values. Electoral gains should never justify sacrificing the very values underpinning the Jewish State that we, as Diaspora Jewry, are proud to support.”

The comments followed similar condemnations from major US Jewish groups and prominent American Jews over the weekend.

The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) made separate statements this week on the merger deal.

In a statement late Thursday, AJC said the “views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.”

AJC said that while it did not “normally comment on political parties and candidates during an election” after the union it felt “compelled to speak out.”

“Historically, the views of extremist parties, reflecting the extreme left or the extreme right, have been firmly rejected by mainstream parties, even if the electoral process of Israel’s robust democracy has enabled their presence, however small, in the Knesset,” the carefully worded statement said.

It did not mention Jewish Home by name or Netanyahu, who was instrumental in pushing the two parties to unite.

Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit parties file their joint party slate ‘Union of Right-Wing Parties’ with the Central Elections Committee, February 21, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

On Friday, AIPAC retweeted the AJC statement. “We agree with AJC. AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party,” it said.

It was not immediately clear if that policy would be extended to the Jewish Home party.

Netanyahu will speak at AIPAC’s annual conference in late March.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League also criticized the merger on Wednesday. “There should be no room for racism & no accommodation for intolerance in Israel or any democracy. ADL 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,” tweeted its leader, Jonathan Greenblatt.

Prominent US Jewish journalists have also sharply criticized Netanyahu, writing in opinion pieces that the premier’s actions were “shameful” and “can’t be ignored.”

Netanyahu — who was a direct partner to the merger by giving Jewish Home a spot on his Likud party’s slate to compensate for one of the slots Jewish Home gave to Otzma Yehudit — has rejected criticism of the move.

“What hypocrisy and double standards by the left,” he wrote on Facebook. “They’re condemning [the formation of] a right-wing majority bloc with right-wing parties, while the left acted to bring extreme Islamists into the Knesset to create a majority bloc.”

He then went on to list several instances of alleged support by left-wing politicians for radical Arab legislators and leaders.

The Jewish Home central committee voted overwhelmingly Wednesday evening to approve the merger with Otzma Yehudit, which is led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari.

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit is the spiritual godchild of Kahane’s Kach party, which was banned from the Knesset under a Basic Law outlawing incitement to violence and later exiled entirely in Israel. Kahane was the American immigrant founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, who before his assassination in 1990 promoted the immediate annexation of disputed territories and the expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank.

Party head Ben Ari has called Kahane his rabbi and his teacher. Other leaders include former Kahane aide Baruch Marzel, a resident of Hebron who holds a party every year at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, the American-born doctor who in 1994 massacred 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs; Bentzi Gopstein, a rabbi who runs Lehava, a group that opposes marriages between Jews and non-Jews; and Itamar Ben Gvir, an attorney who defends Jewish activists accused of terrorism.

Under the Otzma Yehudit platform, Israel’s sovereign borders would extend from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and “enemies of Israel” within those expanded borders would be resettled elsewhere in the Arab world.

The move did draw its fair share of opponents from within the religious party, but that opposition dwindled in the final hours before the vote, in part because of the sweeteners for the deal promised by Netanyahu.

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