Leading US Jewish journalists denounce Netanyahu for deal with extremists
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Leading US Jewish journalists denounce Netanyahu for deal with extremists

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake says PM’s embrace of Otzma Yehudit is a ‘stain that can’t be ignored,’ New York Times’ Bret Stephens calls it a ‘shameful bargain’

Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan, February 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Kfar Maccabiah, Ramat Gan, February 21, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prominent US Jewish journalists have sharply criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for brokering a political deal that could see the extremist Otzma Yehudit party enter the Knesset, writing in opinion pieces that the premier’s actions were “shameful” and “can’t be ignored.”

The merger deal between the right-wing religious Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit could see at least one member of the latter party, which comprises disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, enter the Knesset after the elections on April 9. The deal was brokered last week by Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen a potential Likud-led coalition after the vote.

“Netanyahu and [Jewish Home head Rafi] Peretz have legitimized hateful fanatics until recently considered beyond the pale,” Eli Lake wrote in a Friday piece published in Bloomberg Opinion.

“Even if no Kahanists serve in a future government, the prime minister’s political embrace of them is a stain that cannot be ignored.”

National Review editor Jay Nordlinger tweeted the same day that he has admired Netanyahu for decades, but now “he has stayed too long. His dignity is ebbing away.”

Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens shared Lake’s piece on his Twitter feed Saturday and, using Netanyahu’s nickname, described the deal as “Bibi’s shameful bargain”

The Wednesday agreement between Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit also drew condemnation last week from two key US-Jewish groups.

In a statement late Thursday, the American Jewish Committee said it felt “compelled to speak out” and that the “views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.”

On Friday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobby, retweeted the AJC statement and declared it would not meet with members of Otzma Yehudit. It was not immediately clear if that policy would also be extended to the Jewish Home party.

“We agree with AJC. AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party,” it said, but did not mention by name the Jewish Home party or Netanyahu, who was instrumental in pushing the two parties to unite.

Despite the AIPAC statement, the group confirmed that Netanyahu is still set to address the group’s annual policy conference next month.

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)

Other groups in the US and Israel have spoken out against Otzma Yehudit. The head of the Anti-Defamation League criticized the merger on Wednesday, saying in a statement, “There should be no room for racism & no accommodation for intolerance in Israel or any democracy.”

On Saturday, prominent modern Orthodox rabbi Binyamin Lau compared voting for the party to voting for Nazis.

Netanyahu hit back at the critics Saturday night.

“What hypocrisy and double standards by the left,” he wrote on Facebook, in a post that did not name AIPAC. “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.”

The Jewish Home central committee voted overwhelmingly Wednesday evening to approve the merger with Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”), which is led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and far-right activists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein.

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. Marzel, a resident of Hebron, is a former Kahane aide 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.

Gopstein is a former student of the extremist rabbi and an anti-miscegenation activist who is facing charges of incitement to violence, racism and terrorism; Ben Gvir, who as a teen was active in Kach, is now largely known for representing Jewish terror suspects. Gopstein’s Lehava movement works to prevent relationships — romantic and otherwise — between Jews and Arabs, and has held sometimes violent protests outside interfaith weddings.

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.

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