The Jewish Chronicle
Anger over Bibi’s alliance with far-right supremacists
BRITISH JEWISH groups have condemned Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to forge a pact with far-right group Otzma Yehudit (‘Jewish Power’).
Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney said Benjamin Netanyahu must know “that joining with the wrong or unpopular bed-mate might ultimately be the cause of his downfall”.
In a joint statement, the movements for Liberal and Reform Judaism condemned the Israeli Prime Minister, saying his embrace of Otzma Yehudit “has the potential to legitimise their racist and hateful ideology”.
Jewish Power backs the forced removal of Palestinians and turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy. They also describe themselves as the successors to the banned Kahanist movement, named after the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Jewish Defence League was labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States.
Mr Netanyahu is seeking to unite the fringes of Israel’s right wing ahead of the election in April. His Likud has reserved the 28th spot on its list for Habayit Hayehudi, a pro-settler party, on condition that it formed a separate joint list with the extremist faction.
Yachad’s Hannah Weisfeld was among those who condemned Mr Netanyahu. She said the leaders of the newly merged faction “represent values that are inimical to anyone that considers themselves to be a believer in democracy, justice and Jewish values.”
Adam Ognall, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said the move signified a “horrifying” development in Israeli politics.
He said: “It is both horrifying and very revealing that Kahanists are now returning to the political arena and are being courted and embraced by right-wing parties and their leadership.”
While many Jewish groups lined up to condemn the move by Mr Netanyahu, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies said it was not their normal policy to comment on Israeli elections.
Some criticised them for failing to call out the Israeli Prime Minister.
Ms Weisfeld said communal groups who do not condemn the move run the risk of “conflating support for Israel with support for outright racism, homophobia and anti-democratic beliefs.”
Tal Ofer, himself a deputy, said the lack of official comment by the Board was “moral cowardice and the height of hypocrisy”.
He said: “The Board made statements when Trump was elected. Turning a blind eye to racism in Israel is unacceptable.”
Another deputy, who did not wish to be named, said it was “shameful” that the Board had not commented considering other Jewish organisations around the world had managed to.
American pro-Israel lobby group Aipac — which rarely criticises Israeli prime ministers — tweeted that it “has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party”.
And the Board’s US partner, the Ameri- can Jewish Committee, also condemned the move, saying: “The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the state of Israel.”
In a letter to the Board, deputy Joe Millis expressed his anger at the organisation’s silence. He said when he raised his concerns with Board President Marie van der Zyl he was told “the Board doesn’t interfere in other countries’ elections”.
He said: “How can the Board possibly be expected to be taken seriously on the immorality of Labour antisemitism, if it won’t speak out on the Israeli ruling party’s lurch to racism and homophobia in the Jewish state? It’s an open goal for every Corbynista who thinks the Board is acting on behalf of the Netanyahu government.” Both Liberal and Reform movements in the UK refrained from criticising the Board or the JLC but said the community had a “moral duty to speak out against those who advocate the expulsion of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people and Progressive Jews.” Rabbi David Mason of Muswell Hill United Synagogue agreed, saying it was “extremely worrying” for anyone who cares about the future of Israel “and should provoke us to respond just as we would to hatred anywhere: by advocating for a wider peace.” He said it was “shocking and painful to see extremism being given a potential path to government involvement.”
Masorti Judaism said Otzma Yehudit’s ideology presented an “existential threat to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
And Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg said: “Otzma Yehudit should not be further legitimised in any sense and we hope and pray that the party returns to a place of irrelevance.” A spokesperson for the Masorti movement said that while it was up to individual organisations to decide if they comment or not it was important for community leaders to “speak out” when confronted with extreme racism. These are unusual times and the alliance is an affront to Jewish values.”
However, Gary Mond, a deputy for JNF UJK, defended the Board for not commenting, saying it was “wholly wrong for the Board to get involved in any way in the Israeli elections.
“Like most people, I personally condemn Otzma Yehudit but believe it is for native Israelis alone to participate in the debate. It is not appropriate for the Board of Deputies, as a British communal body, to voice an opinion on this matter.”
He was not alone in his views and many others sent messages to the JC agreeing with the decision taken by the Board and the JLC.
Hanan Charles, from East London & Essex Liberal Synagogue, said Jewish communal organisation in the UK had “no right” to interfere with Israeli politics. She said communal leadership organisations should “work on the problems” facing the British Jewish community.
It is horrifying that Kahanists are back in the political arena’