Prominent rabbi likens vote for Otzma Yehudit to backing Nuremberg Laws

Benny Lau, whose uncle was Holocaust survivor and ex-chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, says he’ll fight to ensure ‘the doctrine of Kahane doesn’t enter the Knesset’

Rabbi Benny Lau. (Courtesy)
Rabbi Benny Lau. (Courtesy)

A prominent national-religious rabbi on Saturday sharply criticized the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, saying a vote for it in Israel’s upcoming parliamentary elections was akin to backing Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws.

The criticism from Benny Lau came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a merger between Otzma Yehudit and the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, arguing that right-wing votes would be “wasted” if the two parties ran alone and failed to enter clear the 3.25% threshold for Knesset representation.

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.

“I suggest the public review the comparison [Likud] MK Michael Eitan made in the 1980s between the Nuremberg Laws and those that Kahane sought to enact,” Lau told the Israel National News site.

“As someone who dreams the dream of the return to Zion, I will fight so the doctrine of Kahane doesn’t enter the Knesset because it is a racial doctrine like the Nuremberg Laws,” added Lau, who heads the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem and the Israel Democracy Institute’s Human Rights and Judaism program.

Lau, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is a relative of Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and his son David Lau, who currently serves in that post.

The Nuremberg laws, passed by the Nazis in 1935, were a series of anti-Semitic laws that including stripping Jews of German citizenship and barring them from marrying or having sexual relations with ethnic Germans.

Head of the Jewish home party Rabbi Rafi Peretz holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 13, 2019. (Flash90)

In response, Jewish Home did not directly address Lau’s criticism but defended party leader Rafi Peretz and the agreement with Otzma Yehudit.

“He is one of the greatest builders of religious Zionism that has dedicated his whole life for the wellbeing of the Jewish people,” the party said in a statement, adding that Peretz acted out of a feeling of “leadership and national responsibility.”

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.

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.

Gopstein is an ex-Kahane student and Kach activist whose Lehava movement works to prevent relationships — romantic and otherwise — between Jews and Arabs.

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.

Michael Ben Ari (left) speaks during a ceremony honoring the late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane in a Jerusalem hall, October 26 2010. At right is Baruch Marzel (Yossi Zamir / Flash 90)

Netanyahu has taken considerable heat from opposition figures and Jewish groups over his efforts to broker the electoral alliance between Otzma Yehudit and Jewish Home, with the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby issuing a rare rebuke in which it called the party “racist and reprehensible.”

The premier on Saturday hit back at critics for “hypocrisy and double standards,” but did not name AIPAC.

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