Feb 17, 2021 - World

Netanyahu allies with Jewish supremacists ahead of Israeli election

Netanyahu. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made great efforts ahead of Israel's March 23 elections to ensure that Jewish supremacists from the Jewish Power party will make it into Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

Why it matters: This move is equivalent to a U.S. president cutting a political deal with David Duke, the former KKK leader. Netanyahu and the ruling Likud party are legitimizing a racist, xenophobic and homophobic fringe party in hopes that their right-wing bloc will reach a 61-seat majority.

Between the lines: With a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu could pass laws aimed at stopping his corruption trial.

Driving the news: Netanyahu was involved in the negotiations to form a new electoral list called “The Religious Zionism,” which combines three radical parties.

  • Jewish Power is led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism. Ben-Gvir is best-known for ripping the Cadillac emblem off of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car in 1995 and declaring, “We reached Rabin’s car, we will get to Rabin too." Rabin was assassinated later that year.
  • The National Union is led by Bezalel Smotrich, who has a history of racist remarks about Israeli Arabs, said the murder of a Palestinian family by Jewish settlers was not terrorism, and organized an anti-gay parade in Jerusalem, which he called “the beast parade." Smotrich is a moderate by the standards of the list.
  • Noam is a radical religious party that focuses primarily on opposing LGBT rights.
  • To sweeten the deal, Netanyahu saved a spot on the Likud electoral list for a member from Smotrich’s party to ensure their election.

But the most dramatic step happened when Netanyahu’s Likud party signed a “surplus agreement” with the new radical right-wing list.

  • In Israel's proportional representation system, such agreements allow parties to combine surplus votes in hopes of gaining an additional seat.
  • Thus, Likud voters could effectively hand another seat to the Jewish supremacists.

Flashback: Netanyahu has done this once before. Ahead of the April 2019 elections, he helped form a list that included Jewish Power and two other radical right-wing, pro-settler parties.

  • The Supreme Court banned one of Jewish Power’s candidates before the elections, and while the list won enough votes to enter the Knesset, no Jewish Power candidates qualified.
  • In 2019, the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC issued an unusual statement condemning Netanyahu. This time AIPAC hasn't said anything.

The backstory: Jewish Power was formed by the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was elected to the Knesset in 1984 and proposed laws to strip non-Jews of citizenship and segregate beaches, among other steps.

  • His Kach party was boycotted by all other parties in the Knesset, banned from running in Israel's 1988 elections, and later designated a terror organization by Israel, the U.S., Canada and the EU.
  • At the time, senior Likud members compared Kahane's policies to the Nuremberg Laws passed by the Nazis before the Holocaust.

What’s next: If the right-wing bloc does win at least 61 seats, Netanyahu will be dependent on the Jewish supremacists to form a coalition.

  • Netanyahu said Ben-Gvir will be a member of his coalition but not a minister in the government.
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