Conference of Presidents Joins Criticism of Netanyahu’s Deal With Far-right Party

Veteran vice chairman of the Jewish umbrella organization and Netanyahu ally Malcolm Hoenlein says the premier has created 'a lot of concern' among American Jews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.
Sebastian Scheiner,AP

WASHINGTON – After days of criticism from leading Jewish-American organizations over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in the political alliance between Habayit Hayehudi and the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations spoke out this weeked for the first time.

The veteran vice chairman of the Jewish umbrella organization, Malcolm Hoenlein, told the Associated Press that Netanyahu’s actions have created “a lot of concern” among American Jews.

Hoenlein, who is considered a political ally of Netanyahu and very rarely criticizes the prime minister, offered a more reserved statement on the matter than other Jewish leaders, who were more critical of the political machinations with the racist party. Still, Hoenlein said that “Netanyahu obviously has some political calculation that drove him to it, but politics can’t dictate everything. You have to take into consideration all of the ramifications and all of the concerns.” 

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He added, however, that the “ultimate decision” on the subject will be made by the Israeli public. “What we have to deal with is how it is perceived and understood in the United States,” he said. “We have to be very careful because it feeds certain tendencies that are very concerning to us.”

This remark could be interpreted as an acknowledgement that Netanyahu’s political alliance with Otzma Yehudit could serve the propaganda of the BDS movement in the United States, which will use it to portray Israel as racist. 

On Friday, AIPAC used its official Twitter account to express support for a statement on the subject by the American Jewish Committee. The AJC comment, which was published Thursday, described Otzma Yehudit as “reprehensible” and noted that in the past, Israel's large parties refused to cooperate with such extremist forces.

For weeks, Netanyahu has pushed for an electoral pact between Otzma Yehudit, an extremist party that includes supporters of the racist, late Rabbi Meir Kahane, and the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party. He convinced both parties to join forces and run on a joint ticket in the April 9 election, thus increasing their chances of passing the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent and winning seats in the Knesset.