Top Jewish Members of Congress Condemn Netanyahu’s Deal With Far-right Party

After Netanyahu brokered party merger that could lead to Kahanists taking seats in the next Knesset, U.S. lawmakers are concerned the premier is legitimizing racist platforms

Israeli far-right party Habayit Hayehudi members discuss joining forces with with Otzma Yehudit, Petah Tikva, Israel, February 20, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

WASHINGTON - Two leading Jewish American members of Congress strongly criticized on Friday the political deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

The condemnations from Capitol Hill came after three straight days of criticism from within the organized Jewish community, including a rare statement on the subject issued on Friday by AIPAC, the powerful lobby group supporting the Israeli government. 

For weeks, Netanyahu has pushed for an election pact between Otzma Yehudit, an extremist party that includes supporters of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and the religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party. Earlier this week, 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.

>> Read more: Why racist Rabbi Meir Kahane is roiling Israeli politics 30 years after his death | Explained ■ Courting Kahanists, Netanyahu takes politics to the gutter | Analysis ■ Kahane returns to the Knesset | Editorial

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.”

On Friday, AIPAC joined the wave of criticism within the Jewish community, taking to Twitter to express support 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.

According to the election pact, Otzma Yehudit (which means “Jewish Strength”) will receive the fifth and eighth slots on the party ticket with Habayit Hayehudi. This gives Kahanists a real chance of returning to the Knesset some 31 years after their leader was barred from it.

In a statement after the merger was agreed on, Otzma Yehudit said the move would prevent "the establishment of a leftist government, God forbid."