What are we to make of the announced alliance between Israel’s Jewish Home party and Otzma Yehudit? And how much of the blame for the move is to be borne by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) is comprised of racist followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and the heirs to the Kach political party. That’s the same Kach that was declared an illegal terror organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union more than two decades ago, and which had been viewed by most as an irrelevant group of hateful fanatics who were not likely to meet the required threshold of votes in the upcoming national elections on April 9 to elect anyone to the Knesset.
Enter Netanyahu, who is reported to have brokered a deal between Otzma Yehudit and the weakened Jewish Home in an effort to support his right flank and bolster his chances for reelection. In the process, Netanyahu supposedly promised those involved in the merger safe seats in the Knesset and ministries in his next coalition government.
The criticism of the move from respected, pro-Israel commentators, clergy of almost all streams, and prominent Jewish groups in the center and on the left has been near-deafening, with the accusation of “cynical” being the most charitable description of Netanyahu’s creation. But, Netanyahu does know how to count votes and he seems to be a master at voter manipulation. Indeed, on the eve of his last election in 2015, he whipped up a frenzy among his base by announcing, “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,” securing victory by exploiting hatred of a significant segment of Israeli society.
This is not the Zionism that most of us signed up for, and we are troubled to see the prime minister of Israel cavorting with racists. We share the view of the multitude of Jewish organizations that have issued angry and accusatory statements over the move, and with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who tweeted: “Bolstering one’s political strength with those who profess racist views should be unthinkable.” Even AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee got in on the action, issuing very rare public rebukes of the Israeli prime minister.
Notably absent from the quick and fierce criticism of the unholy alliance is the American Jewish center-right and far right. That silence is disappointing. We have witnessed divisive, toxic politics close up, and understand how destructive it can be. Through their silence and acquiescence our brothers on the right ignore at their peril the serious threats and consequences posed by the promotion of a hate-filled agenda.
For us, while we remain fervent Zionists and supporters of the state of Israel, we cannot pretend we don’t see the spreading stain caused by demagoguery and pandering to the basest emotion there is: fear of the other.