U.S. Jewish Groups Slam Israeli Decision to Let Kahanist Party Run in Election

Some 7,500 American Jews from 11 US organizations expressed support for Kahanist party ban, voicing dismay at Central Election Committee's ban of far-left candidate, Arab joint slate

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Chairman Michael Ben Ari of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Central Election Committee meeting, March 6, 2019.
Chairman Michael Ben Ari of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Central Election Committee meeting, March 6, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

NEW YORK — American Jewish groups who fought against the racist Otzma Yehudit’s participation in the upcoming Knesset election expressed dismay Wednesday after Israel's election committee voted to allow the party to run.

"Israel's Supreme Court banned Kahanists from the Knesset in the 1980s and they are still designated as terrorist groups in the United States and other countries,” New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch said. “There is no question that Kahanists do not belong in the Knesset.

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Sokatch added, “The fact that [Otzma Yehudit is] being courted, embraced, and empowered by right-wing parties and leaders is a travesty for Israeli democracy.”

"It certainly illuminates the fact that these leaders, especially the Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] who orchestrated the Kahanists' comeback, do not share core values with most Israelis, and certainly not with the American Jewish community."

Some 7,500 American Jews from 11 U.S. organizations, including the New Israel Fund, had expressed their support for Israeli efforts led by the social and political activism group Zazim to remove the Kahanist party from the list of tickets running in the April 9 election.

Zazim had delivered a petition with 14,000 signatures to the Central Elections Committee on Wednesday.

Among the other U.S. groups backing Zazim were J Street, the Israel Religious Action Center on Behalf of the Reform Movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, Americans for Peace Now, Partners for Progressive Israel, T'ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Ameinu, the Jewish Labor Committee, Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly.

“Thirty-plus years after Likud leaders walked out on Kahane speaking in Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition are threatening Israel’s democracy by orchestrating the entrance of violent extremists into the government,” T’ruah Executive Director Rabbi Jill Jacobs told Haaretz — referring to the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded Kach in the 1970s and served one term in the Knesset from 1984-1988.

Groups also expressed their disappointment that the Central Elections Committee banned far-left Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif for equating Israel with the Nazi regime and denying its right to exist as a Jewish state, and Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List for denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and for supporting terror. 

“It is especially ironic that the same day that Israel’s Central Elections Committee voted to allow Otzma Yehudit to run, it also banned Balad and the Jewish Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif,” Jacobs said. 

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Jacobs pointed out that since 2016, her organization has been working to end tax-exempt support of Kahanist organizations by U.S. charities for inciting to violence against Palestinians and some Israelis.

The Central Elections Committee’s ruling in favor of the Otzma Yehudit candidacy is expected to be appealed at the Supreme Court.

Paul Scham, president of Partners for Progressive Israel, said the Central Election Committee "made the wrong call" in deeming Otzma Yehudit eligible to run. "They pose a considerably greater danger to the democratic state than does Ofer Cassif. ... Cassif’s language is foul, but there is no evidence that he has, or would, help terrorists in their acts. The Kahanists, by contrast, who were permitted to run constitute a genuine danger.

"Israel’s Supreme Court, to which both cases are being appealed, has a better record than the elections committee of separating the dangerous from the merely loud and obnoxious," Scham added. He expressed his hopes that the decision will be reversed. 

Sokatch told Haaretz, "We stand with our friends and colleagues in Israel who will take this issue to the Supreme Court. We will continue to support their fight to protect Israeli democracy from those who use violence, terror and supremacist ideologies to divide and rule by fear.

"A party that celebrates Meir Kahane and that preaches genocide has no place in the Knesset,” he added.