'Kahane legacy alive, headed to Knesset thanks to Netanyahu'

Jewish Home party, far-right Otzma Yehudit reunite ahead of third elections

Parties ran together with National Union in April election; Ben Gvir, This will bring victory for right-wing bloc; Blue and White’s Yair Lapid calls partnership ‘a disgrace’

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, right, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, December 20, 2019. (Courtesy)
Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, right, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, December 20, 2019. (Courtesy)

The Jewish Home party and the extremist far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) have reunited and will run together ahead of Israel’s third national elections in under a year, set for March 2, the parties announced on Friday.

In a joint announcement, the parties said they were “committed to unity and to a right-wing government,” and called for the National Union party headed by Bezalel Smotrich, currently Israel’s transportation minister, to join the alliance.

“The upcoming elections will be crucial to the future of the State of Israel and the right-wing camp in particular,” the parties said in a statement after a meeting Friday morning between Jewish Home head Rafi Peretz, who serves as education minister, and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir.

“The public is tired of struggles and the division and wants unity in religious Zionism and the right-wing camp, not uniformity but unity,” the parties said. “Saving the right-wing government involves connecting all parties to the right of the Likud,” they went on, in reference to the ruling party headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We must not reach a situation where one of the parties will not pass the electoral threshold and as a result, thousands of right-wing votes will go to waste,” they said.

The parties called on Smotrich to “join ranks” and unite religious Zionism today. “The National Union is an integral part of the unity of right-wing parties,” they said.

“This alliance will bring victory for the right-wing bloc,” Ben Gvir said, speaking alongside Peretz after they had finalized their alliance.

The deal is seen as a blow for Smotrich, who — polls suggest — is the most popular of the national religious slate leaders. The Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit agreement left open spots on the united list for National Union candidates if they agree to join, but Smotrich will be given the No. 2 spot while the less popular and less experiences Peretz will remain at the helm.

Bezalel Smotrich addresses a National Union faction event on October 6, 2019. (National Union)

Peretz said, “We have a commitment to the right-wing camp. We can’t let right-wing votes go to waste. These elections are fateful for a right-wing government and for religious Zionism. And they call for unity.”

Otzma Yehudit’s leadership is made up of disciples of the American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Jewish supremacist Kach party was banned under Israeli law for incitement to racism and later declared a terrorist group. Among Kahane’s proposals — none of which passed — during his tenure as Kach’s lone Knesset member in the mid-1980s was revoking the citizenship of Arab Israelis and outlawing marriage and sex between Jews and non-Jews. Kahane, who founded the far-right Jewish Defense League in the United States before moving to Israel, served only one term as an MK before Kach was barred from running in 1988. Kahane was assassinated two years later in New York by an Egyptian-American gunman.

Ben Gvir as a teen was active in Kach and is now largely known for representing Jewish terror suspects.

The Otzma Yehudit list previously had Michael Ben Ari, who was denied a US visa in 2012 over his ties to Kach; Baruch Marzel, who served as Kahane’s secretary in the Knesset; and Bentzi Gopstein, a former student of the extremist rabbi and anti-miscegenation activist who was charged in November for incitement to violence, racism and terrorism.

All three were banned from running in the elections by the Supreme Court.

Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit ran together in the April elections — Israel’s first national vote this year — as part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties which also included the National Union. Netanyahu himself orchestrated this union in a bid to ensure they crossed the election threshold. The alliance ultimately won five seats in the Knesset. However, after Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition, he dissolved parliament and called fresh elections for September 17. Those elections also failed to deliver a government and new elections were called.

Otzma Yehudit broke its alliance with Jewish Home in June amid accusations that the latter was not honoring its pre-election agreement.

As part of the reunion, Otzma Yehudit will be given the third, sixth and ninth spots, all but solidifying Ben Gvir’s entry into the Knesset after he fell short in the year’s two previous tries. The move also marks the further normalization of the once beyond the pale party brought into the fold by Netanyahu in April. Then, he agreed to reserve a spot on the Likud list for a Jewish Home MK and promised the national religious party a pair of senior government posts if they agreed to merge with Otzma Yehudit.

Blue and White No.2 Yair Lapid was first to react to the news of the reunion, tweeting that the “decision by Jewish Home to run with the racist, anti-Jewish ‘Otzma Yehudit’ is a disgrace to religious Zionism.

“Jewish Home has lost the right to talk about Jewish values,” added Lapid.

The Blue and White party issued a statement later Friday, saying, “The Kahane legacy is alive and headed to the Knesset solely because of Netanyahu’s legal situation.”

“The upcoming elections are a decisive time,” the Blue and White party said in the statement. Israel will have “a messianic and racist immunity government or a national reconciliation government.”

Meanwhile, the New Right headed by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s current defense minister and a former leader of the Jewish Home party, launched its election campaign earlier this week, kicking off an independent bid and appearing to leave the remaining national religious parties to decide how best to compete in the upcoming March vote.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked attend a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Naftali Bennett’s party said in a statement that it would be running under the slogan, “There’s pretend right, there’s sometimes right and there’s New Right — a secure right.”

In the September election, the New Right was part of the joint Yamina slate, headed by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, which comprised Peretz’s Jewish Home and Smotrich’s National Union.

(L-R) Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Bezalel Smotrich and Rafi Peretz announcing a merger between religious right-wing parties, to be called United Right, July 29, 2019. (Courtesy)

That came after Bennett and Shaked’s failed April run, which humbled the two of them into merging with the national religious factions they had deserted several months earlier.

On Thursday, Shaked announced that she would be staying with the New Right as its No. 2 candidate ahead of the March general elections, putting an end to weeks of rumors over her political future.

The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, Zman Yisrael, reported Tuesday that Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman has offered Shaked the number two spot on his party’s slate and said that if she joined him, he would commit to joining the right-wing bloc after the March vote if the results again leave him in the position of kingmaker.

As part of the deal, Shaked would have been allowed to demand any portfolio she wanted in the government that is within Yisrael Beytenu’s quota if the party joins a ruling coalition.

Explaining her decision Thursday, Shaked wrote that after much thought, she realized that the New Right was the only movement that “could end divisions [in Israeli society]” and she called on her “friends in religious Zionist camp and the ideological right” to join her.

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