Netanyahu welcomes extremist Kahanist party into his already far-right alliance

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a deal this week with the right-wing extremist party Jewish Power, which has roots in a violent, racist movement that Israel and the U.S. deemed a terrorist organization.

The agreement is Netanyahu’s effort to consolidate support before the country’s election in April. Although Netanyahu has long courted nationalist and religious parties as a means of undermining right-wing challengers and shoring up coalitions, his pact with Jewish Power goes beyond his previous alliances. One prominent Israeli diplomatic correspondent compared Netanyahu’s deal to an American president making a pact with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Jewish Power, or Otzma Yehudit, is led by followers of Brooklyn-born Meir Kahane, an openly racist and ultranationalist rabbi who led extremist organizations in the United States and Israel. Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, was also the founder of the Jewish Defense League ? a violent anti-Arab organization founded in the U.S. that the FBI refers to as a terrorist group.  —…

That KKK reference would be striking if it weren’t for the fact that our current president has a relationship with tiki-torch carrying KKK/Nazis that can only be characterized as mutual admiration.

Almost exactly 25 years ago, a former member of the Jewish Defense League, carried out a terrorist attack in Hebron. When he immigrated to Israel, Baruch Goldstein joined Kahane’s Kach party and served in the IDF. On February 25, 1994, he walked into the Cave of the Patriarchs and opened fire on Palestinian protesters killing 29 people and wounding 125 people. 

In response, the Israeli government imposed a two-week curfew on all Palestinians living in Hebron. Jewish settlers were unaffected by the curfew. 25 Palestinians were killed by IDF forces in protests and riots following the attack, as were 5 Israelis.

In the 25 years since, conditions for Hebron’s Palestinian residents have become progressively worse as successive Israeli governments have continued clampdowns on Hebron, effectively shuttering its once thriving markets.

Goldstein’s grave in the settlement of Kiryat Arba has become a shrine for extremists. The Israeli government banned Kahane’s Kach party, but Netanyahu’s approval of the alliance all but guarantees Kahane’s followers a seat in the next Parliament and the ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the Jewish Power party.

Jewish Power is comprised of hard-line religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the banned Kahanist movement, which dreamed of turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and advocated forced removal of its Palestinians. —…

The response to Netanyahu’s move among most on the left and Americans has been almost uniformly one of horror. I’ll let Chemi Shalev explain:

For U.S. Jewry, Kahanist Caper Casts Netanyahu as Prince of Darkness and Trump on Steroids 

Even AIPAC broke its usual silence after Netanyahu legitimized followers of the infamous Rabbi Kahane, who was a household name in America before setting foot in Israel — Chemi Shalev in Haaretz

Several US politicians have also spoken out against the alliance:

The first member of Congress to address the issue on Friday was Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler shared a news story on the deal (from The Times of Israel) and wrote: “The promotion and inclusion of an avowedly racist party is a betrayal of Israeli democracy and of Israel’s friends and supporters around the world.” He added that the legitimization of racist views “is simply unacceptable.”

Hours later, Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Florida and the chairman of the House sub-committee on the Middle East, shared AIPAC’s criticism and wrote: “This racist and reprehensible party must not be legitimized. Otzma Yehudit’s hatred is not a reflection of the values of the state of Israel was founded upon, and it should be rejected.” —…

In the broader sweep of history, the alliance makes perfect sense. After all, Likud, Netanyahu’s party was also founded by terrorists. 

Likud was created in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir among others. It came to power for the first time in 1977, in an election that marked a  dramatic shift from left to right in Israeli politics. So much so, that it is often called “the revolution”. Begin became Prime Minister and Shamir served as Speaker of the Knesset. This was a remarkable change of fortune for the two, who had been virtual pariahs in Israeli politics.

In the late 1940s, Begin led the Irgun, and Shamir was part of the leadership of the even more extreme splinter group Lehi. During the 1930s and 1940s, the two groups bombed hotels, markets and bus stops, killing hundreds of civilians. They had also targeted British soldiers and policemen. Most notoriously, in 1947, they kidnapped two British sergeants. The parents of the two soldiers made personal appeals to Irgun leaders to release their children. Under Begin’s direct orders, both soldiers were hanged. The parallels with Hamas’ abduction of Israeli soldiers (which the current Israeli government decries in the strongest terms) is striking.

Lehi, under Shamir, assassinated the UN appointed mediator, Folke Bernadotte in 1948 when it was clear he would recommend the unconditional return of all Palestinian refugees and a re-assessment of the UN partition plan. Bernadotte, by the way, had rescued hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps. That’s part of the reason Israel had agreed to his appointment as mediator. The nascent Israeli government branded Lehi a terrorist group and briefly imprisoned all its members. They were pardoned within months.

Lehi and Irgun were also responsible for some of the worst violence during the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from what was to become Israel. This included multiple instances where civilian homes were bombed while residents were inside.

The original platform of Likud does not accept Palestinian rights in the West Bank and has never been formally repudiated by the party:

Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.

So in a very real sense, Likud’s alliance with Otzma Yehudit is a genuine meeting of the minds.

— @subirgrewal