WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar denounced on Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political pact to potentially include a racist party in his next governing coalition.
Klobuchar is the first presidential hopeful to respond to Netanyahu’s deal with the extremist, anti-Arab Otzma Yehudit party, which has historical ties to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. The electoral alliance between Otzma Yehudit and another right-wing Israeli party, Habayit Hayehudi, was already denounced by several mainstream pro-Israeli groups in the Jewish American community.
The Minnesota senator, who anounced her presidential candidacy earlier this month, tweeted a New York Times report on Netanyahu’s deal with Otzma Yehudit and wrote: “This is wrong and has been rightly condemned.”
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She also quoted from a statement by the American Jewish Committee, in which the veteran pro-Israel group wrote that Otzma Yehudit’s views “do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel."
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Klobuchar is considered a centrist on issues related to Israel. She was the only Democratic senator running for president who voted recently in favor of a controversial bill against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, which other Democratic candidates opposed on grounds of free speech concerns.
Also Tuesday, two right-wing Jewish-American groups defended Netanyahu actions, days after mainstream pro-Israel groups in the United States denounced the move.
The groups expressing support for Netanyahu's deal with Otzma Yehudit were the Zionist Organization of America and Young Israel. ZOA is strongly committed to supporting West Bank settlements and has repeatedly advocated the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump over the past two years.
Young Israel represents more than 100 Orthodox synagogues across America.
Young Israel’s statement focused on justifying the move by saying it will strengthen the right-wing bloc in the Israeli Knesset. “We understand the prime minister’s actions,” the statement said, noting that the 3.25 percent electoral threshold in Israel could have led to a loss of representation for religious, right-wing parties without the deal.
ZOA’s statement directly attacked the pro-Israel groups that criticized the move, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Unlike ZOA, all of these groups officially support a two-state solution.
In its statement, ZOA echoed Netanyahu’s talking points against the parties representing Israel’s Arab minority, calling them “a danger to the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
The statement also described Kahol Lavan – the main party challenging Netanyahu in the April 9 election – as “left-wing." The party defines itself as centrist, and includes right-wing figures such as former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and former Netanyahu advisers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel.
ZOA is supported financially by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who also owns Israel Hayom, the free newspaper that supports Netanyahu. Earlier this week, the daily ran a front-page headline attacking AIPAC for its comments on Otzma Yehudit, accusing the pro-Israel lobby group of assisting a left-wing conspiracy against Netanyahu.
In its statement, ZOA quoted former MK Michael Ben Ari, a member of Otzma Yehudit, who attacked AIPAC and called on it not to comment on internal Israeli politics. Ben Ari was denied entry to the United States in the past because of his ties to the far-right organization Kach, which was designated a terrorist group by both Israel and the United States in 1994.
In 2017, ZOA received a $100,000 donation from Qatar as part of a lobbying campaign by the emirate to win over support in the Jewish community. Qatar is the main supporter of Hamas within the Arab world.
ZOA’s president, Mort Klein, also flew to Qatar and met with the country’s leader. After the deal was published, ZOA said it would return the funding it received from Qatar and denounced the country. In November, Klein told Haaretz the donation was in fact returned.
Also Monday, the organized leadership of the Conservative stream in Judaism released a statement denouncing Otzma Yehudit.
“The Conservative/Masorti Movement condemns the decision to include in a potential governing coalition, Otzma Yehudit, a racist Israeli political party with roots in the extremist ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach party," the statement said.
"Otzma Yehudit should not be further legitimized in any sense, and we hope and pray that the party returns to a place of irrelevance,” it concluded.