Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached a deal on Wednesday, February 20, with the Jewish Home party to grant the settlers’ national-religious party a pair of ministerial posts after the April elections in exchange for its merging with the racist Otzma Yehudit.
The Jewish Home party, which last week agreed to run for the Knesset jointly with the far-right National Union, has come under increasing pressure from Netanyahu to make an alliance with Otzma Yehudit and another racist and homophobic party, Eli Yishai’s Yachad, arguing that a failure of those smaller parties part to clear the electoral threshold could deprive his Likud of enough potential partners to form a far-right ruling coalition. Netanyahu also agreed to give the new faction two “significant and equal” ministerial roles if he heads the next government, according to the statement. Furthermore, the parties agreed not to attack one other on the campaign trail.
The sealing of the agreement comes hours after Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to push all far right-wing factions to unite, and a day before all the political parties in Israel must finalize their lists of candidates for elections on April 9.
Otzma Yehudit, inspired by arch-racist and anti-communist ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahane, is led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and racists Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein. The Kahanist group has been consistently polling below the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the national vote and had made it very clear in recent weeks that it desperately wanted to merge with another party to ensure its entrance into the Knesset. The agreement would see Ben Ari take the fifth spot on the united list. Ben Gvir is next in line to receive the eighth spot.
Interviewed on Army Radio on Wednesday afternoon, the party’s leader, Ben Ari, was asked to disavow Kahane’s racist ideology. He ridiculed the notion. Kahane, he said, was his teacher, his rabbi. Second on the list of Otzma Yehudit is lawyer Ben Gvir, who first made headlines in Israel in 1995 when he flaunted for photographers the Cadillac emblem stolen from the car of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and crowed to a TV camera, “Just as we got to this emblem, we can get to Rabin.”
Baruch Marzel, number three in the Otzma Yehudit list, is a former top aide to Kahane known for organizing events in praise Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Sanctuary of Abraham —Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. Bentzi Gopstein, forth on the party’s list, is an ex-Kahane student and Kach activist who heads up the movement Lehava that works to prevent relationships — romantic or otherwise — between Jews and Arabs.
A spokesperson for Hadash slammed Netanyahu’s move and asked, “Is there any line of decency and morality that he will not cross? Their ideology of racism, fascism, sexism and extreme xenophobia should have no place in a democratic state. Let us not forget that the Kach party was deemed illegal to run for the Knesset in the 1990s, and one need not look farther than their legislative agenda to understand why.”
Kahane’s Kach was disqualified from contending for Knesset in 1988 because its platform contained racist incitement. It held a Knesset seat from 1984 until 1988. After the massacre by Goldstein in 1994, the government declared the Kach and “Kahane Chai” movements illegal terror organizations. Kach is also on the American and EU lists of terror groups. “But none of this matters to Netanyahu, who is determined to win at any price,” said the Hadash statement.