Even AIPAC was alarmed by rise of Israeli racist party in 2019. Now, who cares!

What happens when Israel just keeps turning into such a rightwing Jewish-supremacist country that American Israel-lovers lose their stomach for defending it? Or they get tired of telling us all about the Good Israel that’s waiting to be redeemed? I think that’s happening, and here is a news story that supports that view.

Two days ago Benjamin Netanyahu, eager to lose no rightwing votes in his bid for reelection in March, signed a vote-sharing agreement with a party that includes extremist racists. Vote-sharing deals have to be struck officially because if a party falls below the threshhold in the election– 3.25 percent/four seats in parliament — its votes otherwise would simply be parcelled to other parties. Netanyahu needs to keep those seats on his side.

Last week, Netanyahu actually midwifed the birth of this new party– Religious Zionism– out of smaller factions so that Religious Zionism would have a better chance of exceeding that threshhold.

The Religious Zionism party includes the Otzma Yehudit party, followers of Meir Kahane: the racist who was elected to the Israeli parliament in 1984, then banned from Israeli government four years later as being too racist, and then assassinated in NY in 1990.

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“So, Netanyahu’s Likud and the Kahane People– they can’t call themselves Kahanists, as this would trigger the intricate anti-terrorism rules– are formally on the same ticket,” Yossi Gurvitz explains.

The Times of Israel tells us what Otzma Yehudit — Jewish Power — believes in.

It supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty would extend throughout the West Bank.

Not really all that different from what Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar and Avigdor Lieberman believe in! Israel just keeps lurching further right…

Joshua Leifer of Jewish Currents (who unlike me can read Hebrew) explains the normalization of Israeli extremism on twitter:

In the wake of Netanyahu’s open embrace of the Kahanists, a brief thread on Kahanism within the Likud, or how the extreme right is now simply the right.

Itamar Ben Gvir is the leader of the Kahanist “Jewish Power” party, that Netanyahu’s Likud signed a vote-sharing agreement with yesterday. Likud MK [Member of Knesset] Nissim Vaturi tweets “Ben Gvir is a brother.” Likud MK May Golan says: “I hope Itamar Ben Gvir will be in the government, and I think most members of the Likud would agree with me.”

Netanyahu says that it’s “hypocritical” to criticize him for the agreement with the Kahanists, and that while Ben Gvir won’t be a minister, “he will of course be in the coalition.”

During the brief time when Meir Kahane himself was a member of Knesset, even right-wing MKs would exit the chamber when he spoke, out of a disapproval. Now, Kahanism is completely mainstream, part of Israel’s ruling party.

Myself I only care about the Israel lobby, what American Zionists are saying. And on an Israel Policy Forum panel Tuesday, one Gabrielle Gallagher asked “Why has there been so little outcry about the attempt to bring Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset? Last time there was plenty.”

That’s a good question. Even AIPAC was upset about Otzma when this happened in February 2019, not this time.

Let’s go back two years, and the vote-sharing deal between Likud and Otzma Yehudit ahead of the April 2019 elections. The Washington Post:

[A] simple 20-word tweet from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest American Israel lobby, has sent shock waves through the political establishment here.

The tweet, which came late Friday, was a show of support for an earlier statement by another powerful group, the American Jewish Committee (AJC). 

“The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel,” AJC wrote in its statement. “The party might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset, and potentially even become part of the governing coalition.”

The AJC said that Israel’s “robust democracy” had enabled the Otzma Yehudit’s rise, but extremes needed to be rejected.

AIPAC tweeted, “We agree with AJC. AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.”

The intervention by the Israel lobby caused concern in Israel, the Post said.

“When AIPAC speaks out this way, this is cause for alarm. Members of Otzma Yehudit belong to the margins of Israeli politics, not just on the Palestinian issue,” said Netanyahu’s former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, another right-wing, but nonreligious, faction. 

Former army chief of staff Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s main rival for prime minister, tweeted that AIPAC’s statement “proves that Benjamin Netanyahu once again crossed ethical lines just to hold onto his seat, badly hurting Israel’s image, Jewish morality and our important relations with the American Jewish community.”

Liberal Zionists were also upset. A day before AIPAC issued its statement, J Street issued a statement calling on US Jewish organizations to condemn the deal with the party of a “racist demagogue” as “dangerous and deeply concerning.”

For decades, the consensus in Israel was that these racist extremist organizations should have no place in the Knesset. We are outraged that right-wing political parties and their leadership have reversed course and opened the door for Kahanists to enter into the Israeli political mainstream.

This time there has been almost no outcry. The American Jewish Committee has been speaking out about antisemitism in the U.S. and against the Iran deal. AIPAC has been trolling the Palestinians for including Hamas in their May elections.

J Street noted the Otzma deal but hasn’t blasted it yet. I’ve seen nothing from Americans for Peace Now or the liberal Zionist network APN and J Street and eight other organizations comprise. J Street and Americans for Peace Now seem most concerned with Biden foreign policy and the growing legitimization of settlements by the Jewish National Fund, as a threat to the “two-state solution.”

One group has been outspoken, the rightwing group Democratic Majority for Israel, an unofficial branch of AIPAC. It said on Wednesday that Netanyahu’s votesharing deal with “disciples” of Kahane was “outrageous.”

Otzma Yehudit’s racist beliefs are completely at odds with the values of the State of Israel and should have no place in Israeli institutions. It would be shameful if these extremists entered Israel’s parliament.

We have faith that Israeli voters will reject this representation in their democracy.”

I don’t think many people in the Israel lobby actually have such faith!

Asked to explain the silence, Israeli reporter Amir Tibon told Israel Policy Forum, “People get used to bad things over time. We’ve seen Netanyahu cooperation with Otzma Yehudit before.”

Tibon said that in Israel Netanyahu’s opposition is “hitting Netanyahu over it very hard.” Yair Lapid is saying Netanyahu is “cooperating with a terror-supporting party.” Gideon Saar is saying that “Likud used to boycott Kahanists.”

I think the slackness in the American response shows how wearying it is to defend Israel. Israel lobbyists have seen Israel get worse and worse and have had to defend every shift to liberal Americans who just defeated Trump.

So what was “dangerous and deeply concerning” two years ago is just more of the same today. When it released its report on Israeli apartheid last month, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that events in the last few years have “shattered” Israel’s “facade.”

What has changed? Recent years have seen a rise in the motivation and willingness of Israeli officials and institutions to enshrine Jewish supremacy in law and openly state their intentions. The enactment of Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People and the declared plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank have shattered the façade Israel worked for years to maintain.

That drumbeat of racism and Jewish supremacy is working on American advocates for Israel. They’re losing their own illusions. They’re getting tired of insisting on the Good Israel.


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