Members of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, which is poised to enter the next Knesset, have allegedly received funding through a shadowy network of American organizations, including a Jewish body that the United States has blacklisted as a terror group, a report said Monday.
The investigation by Yedioth Ahronoth alleged that leaders of the party — Michael Ben Ari, Bentzi Gopstein, Itamar Ben Gvir and others — maintain a series of organizations presenting themselves as charities with the goal of funding their activities.
One of them is “Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi” (the Yeshiva of the Jewish Idea), founded in Israel by far-right extremist Meir Kahane in 1987 to disseminate his views. The yeshiva is viewed by the US State Department as part of Kahane’s outlawed Kach movement and thus designated a terror organization.
Otzma Yehudit is the spiritual successor to Kach, which was barred from the Knesset under a Basic Law outlawing incitement to violence and later banned entirely in Israel.
Ben Ari, who is ranked number 5 on the merged Knesset slate with Jewish Home, is among the yeshiva’s founders and served on its audit committee as of June 2018, the report said, citing protocols and legal documents.
Between 2002 and 2005, the institution reported granting scholarships totaling NIS 74,000 ($20,500) to Gopstein, head of the extremist anti-assimilation group Lehava.
The report said Yeshivat HaRaayon HaYehudi is funded by US donors through various entities, including “Charity of Light” and “Chemla” — US branches of Israeli organizations once led by prominent Kahanist Levy Hazan, who was convicted and jailed for his part in a 1984 shooting attack on a Palestinian bus near Ramallah in which six people were injured.
Chemla’s stated intent is to assist teens from troubled homes, but also focuses on female teens who are “in danger of assimilation.” It has received hundreds of thousands of shekels in support from the Welfare Ministry. It has also employed Gopstein.
“Charity of Light” — a loose translation of “Hasdei Meir,” an Israeli NGO named after Meir Kahane — was listed as a charity in New Jersey in 2001. One of Hasdei Meir’s stated intents is to support the “hilltop residents” — code for a band of far-right activist West Bank settlers, mostly young. It has previously been linked in reports to so-called “price tag” attacks against Arab property in retaliation for moves by the government perceived as hostile to the settler movement, such as the demolition of illegally built West Bank settlement homes.
Ben Ari called the report a “collection of fabrications that were published and refuted years ago. But when the goal is to topple the right-wing leadership, journalistic ethics get trampled.”
Gopstein said the allegations were “lies with the goal of toppling the right-wing government and preventing Otzma Yehudit from entering the next Knesset… It won’t help. I will continue my legal fight against assimilation in the Holy Land.”
The story was published exactly 25 years after American-born doctor and Kach member Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron on February 25, 1994, which prompted Israeli and US authorities to blacklist Kahane’s Kach party as a terror group.
The national religious Jewish Home party voted overwhelmingly last week to approve a merger with Otzma Yehudit. The merger deal was facilitated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to strengthen a future Likud-led coalition following the April 9 election and has since been widely condemned, including by Israeli centrist and left-wing politicians, as well as mainstream US Jewish organizations.
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American-born Kahane founded the militant Jewish Defense League in the US, and espoused the immediate annexation of disputed territories and the expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank until his assassination in 1990.
Ben Ari has called Kahane his rabbi and teacher. Other Otzma Yehudit leaders include former Kahane aide Baruch Marzel, a resident of Hebron who holds a party every year at the grave of Goldstein; Gopstein, a rabbi who runs Lehava, a racist group that protests marriages between Jews and non-Jews; and Ben Gvir, an attorney who defends right-wing activists accused of Jewish terrorism.
Established in 2012 as Otzma Leyisrael by Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad, many of the views espoused by Otzma Yehudit are akin to those backed by some of the Knesset’s most hardline MKs, including annexation of the entire West Bank, unrestricted settlement construction, opposition to a Palestinian state, punitive military operations in response to terror attacks and further emphasis on Israel’s Jewish character in the education, social, and judicial systems.
However, the ultra-nationalist party adds to those positions a host of more overtly racist ones.
It supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
The party also calls for a termination of the fragile status quo on the Temple Mount, which Israel has maintained since capturing and annexing the site in 1967, under which Muslims can pray at the disputed holy site and Jews cannot.