Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett said on Wednesday that the far-right Otzma Yehudit party sees law enforcement as “the enemy.”
During a campaign stop at Yeshivat Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, the defense minister defended his decision to veto the folding of the slate of self-described disciples of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane into his national religious alliance.
“The reason was not because they are too far to the right,” he began.
“I will not put in the Knesset a person or a mindset that despises the state and sees the IDF and police as enemies,” he added.
To prove his point, Bennett noted that Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, as an attorney for Jewish terror suspects, trains them how to make it through interrogations of the Shin Bet security service by remaining silent.
“Our parents did not come to Israel to be partisan militias on the hilltops, because that will dismantle everything we’ve built,” Bennett said in reference to the so-called hilltop youth whom Ben Gvir frequently represents, who establish outposts in the West Bank and who are known to sometimes carry out attacks against soldiers and Palestinians.
Bennett had faced immense pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other right-wing officials ahead of the party filing deadline last month to merge with Otzma Yehudit so as not to risk wasted right-wing votes in the event that the far-right slate fails to cross the electoral threshold.
The party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank. Ben Gvir’s former running mates ex-MK Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein were disqualified from running for the Knesset last year over their support for racism.
Ben Gvir told the Kan public broadcaster Wednesday that Netanyahu aides had put forward an offer by which the Likud would work to ensure Otzma Yehudit makes it into the Knesset. In exchange, Ben Gvir would vow not to run again if it didn’t win enough votes to enter the Knesset in March. A Likud spokesman denied the existence of an agreement, calling it a “lie.”
Responding to Bennett’s scathing criticism, Otzma Yehudit asserted that the defense minister’s remarks were full of lies.
“While Bennett as defense minister abandons soldiers, Itamar Ben Gvir provides them with legal counsel and makes sure they are not left alone,” the party said in a statement, referring to the legal representation its chairman has provided to soldiers accused of using excessive force against Palestinians.
“Itamar Ben Gvir is a true Zionist who hands out hot food to soldiers stationed at checkpoints during cold winter nights,” the party added.