The American Jewish pile-on over the possibility that members of an extreme right-wing group may enter the Knesset could give ammunition to Israel’s enemies.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
A tempest in a teapot is the best way to describe the political dustup over the possible entry of a single follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane into the Knesset. One would think, with all the hand-wringing from the American Jewish community (supported by much of the Israeli press), that within weeks there’ll be a Knesset fire followed by the suspension of civil liberties.
The piling on of left-wing organizations like ADL, the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, the Israel Policy Forum, the rabbinic group T’ruah and the Union for Reform Judaism (its president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said allowing a member of the Otzma Yehudit Party into the Knesset was “the equivalent in the United States of the KKK being welcomed into the corridors of power”) was to be expected.
More surprising are the attacks from the normally circumspect American Jewish Committee and AIPAC.
AJC’s fact-challenged release
Moreover, the five paragraph statement by the American Jewish Committee, as Aaron Lerner of IMRA (Independent Media Review Analysis) has pointed out, is riddled with errors and “clueless” as to the working of Israel’s parliamentary system.
The AJC calls Otzma Yehudit “a new political party” when in fact it was formed in 2012, ran alone in the 2013 elections, and then together with the Yachad Party in 2015. (Both times it failed to pass the vote threshold to enter the Knesset.)
The AJC statement warns the party “might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset” when in fact it is the Jewish Home Party that will enter the next Knesset and Otzma Yehudit, as one of three parties that have formed a bloc for purposes of the election, is likely to get one (or if the bloc does better than expected, two) of the Jewish Home seats.
Finally, the AJC statement says it is up to Israel’s Central Elections Committee to determine whether Otzma Yehudit can be listed on the ballot. And although the Meretz Party, joined by Labor and the new Blue and White party, are raising the issue, Lerner points out that the Committee will not be asked to determine if the party can be on the ballot but if the specific members representing Otzma Yehudit can be included in a list of candidates for the Knesset.
The Commission has ruled against barring them in the past, and nothing has happened since that ruling.
The ignorance and carelessness in ascertaining basic facts suggests the role of virtue signaling in the attacks.
Yaakov Katz, editor of The Jerusalem Post, speculates that AIPAC needed to publicly condemn the party “because the next time it goes to meet a senator or congressman to lobby for additional funding for Israeli missile-defense projects, it might be asked about Otzma. It needed to take a moral stand now.”
Left-wing media and opposition groups in Israel immediately jumped on AIPAC’s condemnation to make political hay against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had pushed hard for Otzma Yehudit to be temporarily “adopted” by another party so that precious right-wing votes wouldn’t be lost.
When Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked recently left Jewish Home to form a new party, they left their former party in danger of failing to pass the Knesset threshold. Indeed that left a variety of right-wing parties likely to lose representation unless they coalesced – opening the way for a left-of-center opposition to replace the Netanyahu government.
Even after Netanyahu knocked heads together, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, which had been in and out of Netanyahu coalitions and had six seats in the last Knesset, looks to be out of the next Knesset, according to recent polls, meaning those votes will be wasted.
Much of the Israeli left-wing media portrayed Netanyahu as responsible for bringing about a break between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, tweeted that condemnation by AIPAC, “proves that Benjamin Netanyahu has once again crossed ethical red lines just to keep his seat, while causing serious harm to Israel’s image, Jewish morality and our important relationship with American Jewry.”
Indeed, it’s been amusing how everyone seemed to try and turn this to their political advantage. CNN’s Jake Tapper, interviewing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday, said, “I know that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is a close ally of President Trump, a close ally of yours, you just met with him.”
Tapper then asked: “Does the Trump administration have any concerns about extending outreach to this racist political party?” It’s red meat for CNN’s anti-Trump viewers. Of course, they knowingly nod, Trump won’t do a thing, being the racist that he is too.
What about the charges of racism against Otzma Yehudit? Daniel Pipes, head of the Middle East Forum, says that Otzma Yehudit “advocates a tough policy toward the Palestinians, but I do not discern racism.”
David Israel in The Jewish Press gives a tough-minded summation and analysis of the party’s platform, with which he says he could probably find a hundred “problematic notes.” For example, the party “will act to remove Israel’s enemies from our land.” But who will determine who is an enemy?
“Is it,” Israel asks “essentially, all non-Jews out? Is there a litmus test?” Also, “how exactly do you balance reducing the bureaucracy and at the same time engage in numerous subsidy programs that could easily bankrupt the state?”
Israel calls the platform “a typical manifesto of a fringe group with a history of being a radical enemy of the establishment and of unrestrained persecution over their convictions.” Personally, Israel says “I’d like to see a better reasoned and less combative platform — with no need to change or moderate the party’s beliefs.”
While it is easy to see how the Otzma Yehudit platform would ruffle liberal sensibilities, critics of the onslaught against Netanyahu for supposedly “legitimizing” the party point out the hypocrisy of liberal critics.
The Zionist Organization of America noted: “While harshly criticizing Otzma Yehudit [the critics] have all been silent about the terror-fomenting, hatred-spewing anti-Israel Arab party leaders and parties running for Knesset, including Ayan Odeh and Ahmed Tibi, and about PA dictator Mahmoud Abbas brokering the merger of the Arab Communist Hadash Party and Arab nationalist Ta’al Party.”
As Jonathan Tobin of JNS points out “Banning Otzma for its alleged embrace of ‘transfer’ also brings up the fact that many of those running for the Knesset think hundreds of thousands of Jews should be evicted from their homes in the West Bank.”
Moreover, some have warned of the dangers of giving ammunition to the enemy. Organizations like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee may inadvertently give support to the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement, lending credence to their charges of Israel as “racist.”
Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations put it delicately: “Israeli leaders and Jewish groups need to be sensitive to how things are perceived that, even if not intended, can be subject to misuse by those who have been fighting against Israel.”