Benjamin Netanyahu faced media criticism this week for hosting the right-wing prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary who have been accused of being anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic. But in response, Likud MK Anat Berko epitomized Netanyahu’s politics in a single sentence: "They might be anti-Semites, but they’re on our side."
Netanyahu lost his moral compass years ago, but in this election cycle - a chronicle of a victory foretold - he no longer cares about appearing as the fascist-enabling Pied Piper who will lead Israel into oblivion and isolation only to keep himself in power.
Netanyahu has been working hard in the last few weeks to help create a coalition between Jewish Home, the latest incarnation of the Mafdal, a venerable religious Zionist party, and a party called Otzma Yehudit, which could be called the Jewish National Front, a radical far right party whose members, like its former leader, Baruch Marzel, were followers of Meir Kahane’s Kach Party. Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 24 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron in 1994, was a Kach member at that time.
On February 11th Netanyahu tweeted:
The Jewish home, Jewish Power, Eli Yishai, and the National Union must unite to save 6-8 seats to the right-wing bloc. We must not lose these votes because the split on the right will lead to a loss in the elections and the establishment of a leftist government. None of them alone does pass the threshold, uniting them will bring at least 6-8 seats.
Just over a week later, his efforts proved successful. The Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit agreed to run together in Israel's upcoming elections in exchange for Netanyahu promising Jewish Home two ministerial positions in the next government and a slot on the Likud party list.
This may seem like a political puppet show, or familiar political horse-trading. But it isn't.
It shows how far to the right the Israeli right has gone.
Betzalel Smotrich, an MK for Jewish Home who famously organized the "Beast Parade" as protest to the Pride Parade in Jerusalem and has declared his support for segregating Jews and Arabs, not only in settlements, but also in hospitals, tweeting, "It is natural that my wife would not want to lay down next to someone who just gave birth to a baby that might want to murder her baby in another 20 years," could be the post-election minister of education.
Moti Yogev, another Jewish Home MK, said that Israel's Supreme Court should be razed with a bulldozer. And now, Jewish Home has merged with Otzma Yehudit - who are even more extreme.
Yes, there have always been extremist elements in the Israeli political sphere, but they have always been outcasts. When Meir Kahane got elected, MP tried to impeach him, and when he spoke at the Knesset, MKs would leave the plenum in protest.
These days, Netanyahu isn’t only failing to condemn right-wing extremism; he is working to strengthen it, to endorse it taking its place in the halls of the Knesset, to let its members incite there. Netanyahu is effectively providing the most violent elements in the Israeli society political immunity.
It’s not that the extreme, religious right has gotten closer to Netanyahu, but Netanyahu has become the face of the extreme right. Netanyahu likes to be compared to Churchill, but a comparison to an early Slobodan Milosevic is more appropriate.
In his early years, Milosevic wasn’t considered extreme, but he gave free reign for extreme movements in Serbia for his own cynical reasons, until he identified a moment of crisis and propelled one of the twentieth century's most brutal regimes.
This is a moment of crisis for Israel as a liberal democracy, but it is just as much a moment of crisis, and a test, for American Jews.
How can there be so much discussion of "Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism" when Israel’s prime minister invites anti-Semites to dinner?
How can U.S. Jews stand up against Trump and for human rights when they support an Israeli government that is actively supporting racism, segregation, intolerance, and bigotry, against its Arab population and all who uphold liberal values?
Will U.S. Jews keep inviting and respecting a prime minister who advocates for the inclusion of fascists and racists within his government, and annoints their hatred as acceptable political speech?
Will American Jews embrace a government against which they would stand up with all their might if it was their government?
Sometimes, we are defined by what we reject. Let this be that moment.
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