Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Facebook on Saturday evening to hit back at critics who denounced his endorsement of a merger between right-wing parties Habayit Hayehudi and Otzma Yehudit, whose members are supporters of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
"What hypocrisy and double standards by the left," Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on his official Facebook page. "They denounce a bloc on the right with right-wing parties while the left has acted to put extremist Islamists into the Knesset to create a bloc that would overtake the right."
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He added: "In 1999, [Ehud] Barak participated in an election conference with the incendiary Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, representatives of the Labor Party and Meretz voted for Azmi Bishara, who spied for Hezbollah so he could join the Knesset, and Herzog has promoted a deal with the Joint List and said Arab MKs were legitimate [as an addition] to the government."
Netanyahu was referring to then-Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and the 2015 election. He also appeared to be referring to Barak's tour of the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm before the 1999 election, where he was joined by Salah, then mayor of the town. Barak took over from Netanyahu as prime minister after that election.
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As Netanyahu put it, "Ruling out a union with the right-wing parties is unacceptable, but acting to add inciters and spies against Israel is legitimate. This is the height of absurdity."
Netanyahu also alluded to MK Shelly Yacimovich, who told Haaretz that she voted for Hadash, part of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties in the 2015 election. Hadash had Bishara on its slate in the 1996 election that took place more than a decade before the Arab MK was suspected of espionage, resigned from the Knesset and left Israel for Qatar.
Netanyahu has come under fire in Israel and abroad since news of the merger between Habayit Hayehudi and Otzma Yehudit broke. Earlier Saturday, two top Jewish Congress members took the premier to task for acting to encourage the union.
The first member of Congress to address the issue on Friday was Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler shared a news story on the deal (from The Times of Israel) and wrote: “The promotion and inclusion of an avowedly racist party is a betrayal of Israeli democracy and of Israel’s friends and supporters around the world.” He added that the legitimization of racist views “is simply unacceptable.”
Hours later, Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Florida and the chairman of the House sub-committee on the Middle East, shared AIPAC’s criticism and wrote: “This racist and reprehensible party must not be legitimized. Otzma Yehudit’s hatred is not a reflection of the values of the state of Israel was founded upon, and it should be rejected.”
Their condemnation came in the wake of an unsual denouncement from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which took to Twitter on Friday to express support ort for a statement issued by American Jewish Committee. The AJC comment, which was published on Thursday, described Otzma Yehudit as “reprehensible” and noted that in the past, the large parties in Israel refused to cooperate with such extremist forces.
Also Saturday, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman called AIPAC's denouncement a warning. At a cultural event in Hadera, Lieberman said that "there should be no doubt that we're talking about the most important Jewish organization in the world, with profound significance…When AIPAC responds in this manner, it's a red flag."
He added that Otzma Yehudit is "in the margins of Israeli politics, and not only with regards to policy. They're more ultra-Orthodox than Litzman, Gafni, and Dery put together," referring to members of ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas.
Netanyahu rival and Hosen L'Yisrael chairman Benny Gantz also backed criticism against the prime minister. "The unusual response by AIPAC, an organization that does not routinely deal with internal Israeli politics, proves that Benjamin Netanyahu again crossed ethical lines just so he could hold on to his seat, while hurting Israel's character, Jewish morale and our important relations with U.S. Jewry."
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli said in response to the prime minister's comments: "Every Israeli should thank AIPAC and AJC for their firm and resolute stance against Netanyahu's abhorrent alliance with the Kahanists."
Shmuli went on the stamp out tolerance for fascist ideology: "It must be made clear to Netanyahu that not everything that serves his political and legal survival can pass, certainly not things that contradict our national interest as a state."