Prominent Jewish Group Changes Course, Denounces Far-right Party Courted by Netanyahu

The veteran Jewish organization originally told Haaretz it won’t comment on internal Israeli politics, but later released a strong statement against Otzma Yehudit’s racist views

FILE PHOTO: Baruch Meir Marzel, a member of the far-right party Otzma Yehudit, votes in a Jewish settlement in Hebron, West Bank, Tuesday, March 17, 2015.
AP

WASHINGTON – The American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest Jewish organizations in the United States, released a statement on Thursday denouncing the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, an extremist party that includes followers of the racist late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

On Wednesday, Haaretz published a story on reactions within the American Jewish community to Prime Minsiter Netanyahu’s efforts to bring Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset. While a number of leading Jewish groups, such as the Anti Defamation League and the Union for Reform Judaism, denounced those efforts, AJC originally said that it won’t comment on the matter because it has to do with internal Israeli politics.

The AJC is a Jewish advocacy group that has existed for more than 100 years, and is considered one of the most influential organizations in the Jewish community. It is usually very supportive of Israel and its policies. 

On Thursday, however, the organization changed course and put out a strong statement against Otzma Yehudit, noting that the group is affiliated with the racist, extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. While AJC’s statement denounced Otzma Yehudit, it didn’t directly mention Netanyahu.

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“American Jewish Committee (AJC) does not normally comment on political parties and candidates during an election. But with the announcement that Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”), a new political party formed by longtime followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is now seeking election to the Knesset, we feel compelled to speak out," the statement reads.

The AJC text goes on to describe the party's creed as in contradiction with Israel's core values. "The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel. The party might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset, and potentially even become part of the governing coalition.

Historically, the views of extremist parties, reflecting the extreme left or the extreme right, have been firmly rejected by mainstream parties, even if the electoral process of Israel’s robust democracy has enabled their presence, however small, in the Knesset,” it concludes.

The organization also stated that “ultimately, it is up to Israel’s Central Elections Commission to determine, as it has done in the past, whether Otzma Yehudit can be listed on the ballot on Election Day. Looking ahead to April 9, AJC reaffirms our commitment to Israel’s democratic and Jewish character, which we hope will be the ultimate winners in every election cycle.”