Blasting Likud, Bennett ‘fake right,’ far-right group launches election campaign

Recent polls show Otzma Yehudit failing to pass electoral threshold, but faction open to joining forces with Jewish Home after Bennett and Shaked bolt party

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks at the election campaign launch for the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction in Bat Yam on January 5, 2019. (Otzma Yehudit)
Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks at the election campaign launch for the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction in Bat Yam on January 5, 2019. (Otzma Yehudit)

A far-right Israeli group has thrown its hat into the ever-expanding election ring, using its Saturday night campaign launch event to skewer the Likud party and the New Right — a faction recently established by Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett — as representing the “fake right.”

“For all those who tell you that Likud and Jewish Home are right-wing parties, ask (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Education Minister Naftali) Bennett about their folding to the Waqf in which they agreed to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount,” said party chairman Michael Ben Ari at the launch event in Bat Yam, referring to a July 2017 government decision on the flashpoint site that was criticized by some on the right.

The former National Union lawmaker went on to point out other examples in which he argued that the right-wing parties of the government were not true to their ideology.

“They did not lift a finger to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar,” he said, referring to a Palestinian hamlet built without permits that is slated for razing.

“They stood idly by as fields in the south burned and as the enemy took over land in the Negev and the Galilee, all while destroying the Amona and Netiv Ha’avot (outposts) without hesitation,” Ben Ari continued, referring to arson attacks on Israeli fields by incendiary objects flown from Gaza, as well as illegal Bedouin construction in the country’s north and south and the state’s demolition of illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Otzma Yehudit leaders (from L-R) Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein in a crowdfunding campaign video on November 5, 2018. (Screen capture/Otzma Yehudit)

Otzma Yehudit (originally Otzma LeYisrael), meaning “Jewish Power,” was established by former National Union lawmakers Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad in 2012. Many of the group’s members are ideological descendants of slain activist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose anti-Arab Kach movement is banned in Israel under anti-terrorism laws.

The party failed to pass the electoral threshold in the 2013 elections. It saw the same outcome in the 2015 elections, in which the group joined forces with Eli Yishai’s Yachad.

While not officially represented in the Knesset, the group has remained active over the years, often carrying out protests against what they argue is the government’s lackadaisical response to Palestinian terrorism.

The party will still be led by Ben Ari. He is joined by attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, the Lehava anti-assimilation organization’s chairman Benzi Gopstein, and settler activist and former Kahane aide Baruch Marzel.

Marzel told The Times of Israel that a party slate will be formed in the coming weeks.

Right wing activists Michael Ben Ari (center) and Itamar Ben Gvir (left) carry a fake coffin draped with the Israeli flag during a protest against the removal of metal detectors and other security measures from the Temple Mount, near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, July 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A poll conducted last week by the Yisrael Hayom daily had Otzma Yehudit winning just two seats and therefore failing to cross the four-seat electoral threshold.

Ben Gvir raised the possibility of joining with other factions, such as Jewish Home, which also has taken a hit in the polls since Shaked and Bennett left the national-religious faction to establish the New Right party last month.

“We are always ready for a… bloc with parties with which we have a common ideological denominator, but those parties must know that we intend to run for the Knesset in order to save the Jewish people,” Ben Gvir said at the election launch, indicating that his party intends to stick to its far-right principles.

In November, Otzma Yehudit group launched a crowdfunding campaign that the group said was successful in raising enough money to launch its election bid.

In a video announcing the crowdfunding campaign, Ben Ari, Ben Gvir, Gopstein and Marzel presented their platform. This included a plan to “remove enemies from the State of Israel,” a vow to ensure that the High Court of Justice acts both “Jewishly and nationalistically,” and a law requiring Israelis to kill anyone who carries out an attack against them.

“A thousand of our enemies will die and not a hair will be touched on our soldiers’ heads,” Gopstein declares in the video.

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