Co-operation with anti-Arab racist party defended by Netanyahu

Likud political deal with Jewish Strength draws criticism from Israeli supporters

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: accuses his critics of hypocrisy and double standards. Photograph: Abir Sultan

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: accuses his critics of hypocrisy and double standards. Photograph: Abir Sultan

 

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has defended a controversial political manoeuvre he facilitated, bringing an overtly racist party into mainstream politics, hitting out at his critics as “hypocrites who aim to bring the left to power”.

Israelis vote in a general election on April 9th and the polls show an almost dead heat between the two main blocs: the right-wing/religious camp led by Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party and the centrist-left Arab bloc.

The outcome could be decided by how many of the smaller parties, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, pass the 3.25 per cent threshold required to gain representation in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

With polls showing the far-right Jewish Home hovering close to the threshold and the extremist Jewish Strength failing to enter the Knesset, Mr Netanyahu made the Jewish Home an offer it couldn’t refuse in return for its facilitating a merger with the smaller extreme right party.

Jewish Home was promised two significant cabinet portfolios under a future Netanyahu-led coalition and invited to fill one of the safe slots on the Likud list. The move is almost certain to ensure the new rightist alliance will sit in the next Knesset, shores up support for the right bloc and prevents right-wing votes going to waste.

Expulsion of Arabs

Jewish Strength is an extreme right-wing party founded and filled by disciples of US-born rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was disqualified as racist in the 1980s. Kahane advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and banning sexual relations between Jews and Arabs.

The pact was widely condemned in Israel and by Jewish groups abroad.

Rabbi Benny Lau, a respected leader of religious Zionism, condemned the merger, and, from his pulpit at Jerusalem’s Ramban synagogue, compared Kahanism to Nazism and its ideas to the Nuremberg Laws.

American Jewish organisations, usually careful to avoid commenting on domestic Israel politics, felt compelled to speak out.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) described the views of Jewish Strength as “reprehensible”. The powerful pro-Israel lobby Aipac issued a similar statement, noting a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this “racist and reprehensible party”.

KKK ‘equivalent’

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was even more outspoken. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s the equivalent in the United States of the KKK being welcomed into the corridors of power.”

Mr Netanyahu didn’t mention Aipac, but accused his critics of hypocrisy and double standards. “The left wing condemns the establishment of a blocking majority of the right wing with right-wing parties even though it took steps itself to bring extremist Arab candidates into the Knesset to create a blocking majority,” he said.

Jewish Strength called on Aipac members to immigrate to Israel before meddling in the Knesset elections.