Meridor: It's not a different Likud, it's an opposite Likud

Numerous Likud MKs support, none oppose, PM’s empowering of extremist party

Other lawmakers from ruling party decline to comment on Otzma Yehudit-Jewish Home merger orchestrated by Netanyahu

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) takes part in a toast with his wife and Likud lawmakers during an event in Tel Aviv held by the ruling party to mark the Jewish new year's, on September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) takes part in a toast with his wife and Likud lawmakers during an event in Tel Aviv held by the ruling party to mark the Jewish new year's, on September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Five days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu successfully engineered a merger between the Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit parties, and in the face of massive internal and international backlash, no Likud MKs have voiced opposition to the move, which could enable at least one lawmaker from the extremist Otzma Yehudit to enter the 21st Knesset. A number of Likud MKs have offered active support for the boosting of Otzma Yehudit, while most have not commented on it at all.

The move has been castigated by opposition politicians and prompted concern and criticism from US Jewish leaders. Under the deal Netanyahu gave up the 28th slot on the Likud slate to a representative of Jewish Home and promised Jewish Home two ministerial positions if he forms the next coalition after April 9’s election.

The Times of Israel reached out to over a dozen lawmakers from the ruling party who had yet to comment on the alliance inked last Wednesday between the religious Zionist Jewish Home led by Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich and the Otzma Yehudit party of self-described disciples of Meir Kahane. The Jewish supremacist rabbi’s’s Kach party was banned under Israeli law for incitement to racism and later declared a terrorist group.

MKs who declined to comment: MKs Gila Gamliel, Yuval Steinitz, Ayoub Kara and Gilad Erdan, and candidate Gideon Sa’ar. A spokeswoman for MK Sharren Haskel said the lawmaker was sick and therefore unable to respond.

MKs who did not respond to repeated contact attempts: MKs Amir Ohana, Ze’ev Elkin, Israel Katz, David Bitan, David Amsalem, Avi Dichter, Benny Begin, Ofir Akunis.

MKs who have expressed support over the past week: Yuli Edelstein, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Haim Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Nir Barkat, Tzipi Hotovely, Miki Zohar, Yoav Kisch, Yehudah Glick, Shlomo Karai and Michal Shir. (Almost all of them highlighted the importance of unity among right-wing parties in order to prevent the rise of a left-wing government.)

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)

Glick was the lone lawmaker to offer a small degree of criticism in his response, saying Netanyahu should not have been willing to reserve the 28th spot on the Likud list for a Jewish Home MK. However, Glick explained that he still supported the alliance in principle. “I’m very happy with the merger, but not because my views align with those of that camp. However, we live in a democracy and every voice deserves to be heard.”

“Just like Meretz supporters should have a voice through MKs representing them in the Knesset, the same is the case regarding those that support Otzma Yehudit. This union ensures that they will have representation,” Glick explained.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick speaks at the Knesset plenum on May 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Glick said that his red line was those who support violence, “which [Otzma Yehudit] says it does not.”

Netanyahu has argued that it was necessary to fold Otzma Yehudit into Jewish Home to prevent right-wing votes from being “wasted” if the two parties ran alone and one or both failed to clear the 3.25 percent threshold for Knesset representation, a scenario that would likely make it more difficult for him to form another ruling coalition.

In addition to being lambasted by opposition lawmakers, the merger has been condemned by leading US Jewish organizations such as AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee.

Established in 2012 as Otzma Leyisrael by Michael Ben Ari and Ayreh Eldad, many of the views espoused by the party are akin to those backed by some of the Knesset’s most hardline MKs — annexation of the entire West Bank and unrestricted settlement construction; opposition to a Palestinian state and punitive military operations in response to terror attacks; further emphasis on Israel’s Jewish character in the education, social, and judicial systems.

However, it also supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty and accept sub-equal status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank — the biblical Judea and Samaria. It also calls for a termination of the fragile status quo on the Temple Mount.

Otzma Yehudit includes a number of self-declared Kahanists, among them 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; Bentzi Gopstein, a former student of the extremist rabbi and anti-miscegenation activist who is facing charges of incitement to violence, racism and terrorism; and Itamar Ben Gvir, who as a teen was active in Kach and is now largely known for representing Jewish terror suspects.

Meridor (foreground) and Netanyahu. (photo credit: Amit Shabi/PoolFlash90)
Meridor (foreground) and Netanyahu. (photo credit: Amit Shabi/PoolFlash90)

While no current lawmaker or new candidate on the Likud list in the April elections voiced opposition to the merger, a number of former members of the party have spoken out against the deal orchestrated by Netanyahu.

Dan Meridor, who served as a Likud MK over the course of three decades beginning in the 1980s, lamented that the modern-day version of his party “is willing to legitimize racism in order to save votes.”

The former justice minister stressed to The Times of Israel that he favors freedom of expression but bigotry is a red line that Netanyahu should not have crossed.

Meridor was the lawmaker who successfully petitioned to have Meir Kahane’s party barred from participating in the 1988 elections due to its incitement to racism. Kahane was elected as Kach’s sole MK in 1984.

“It’s not just a different Likud that we are seeing today, but an opposite Likud, whose members compete for who can speak more aggressively against the Arabs, the left and the judicial system,” Meridor said.

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