In 2012 the United States refused to issue a visa for Knesset member Michael Ben Ari because he was a student of Meir Kahane and a former member of Kach, Kahane’s now-defunct political party that was banned from the Knesset on charges of racism.
Ben Ari is also a founder of Otzma Yehudit, which is a right-wing Israeli political party still in operation and what I refer to as “Kahane’s Baby.”
The piece below represents my personal take on their political platform.
In pondering the Tlaib/Omar Israel fiasco we learned that while the Democrats were throwing a fit because Netanyahu decided against allowing US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilham Omer into the country, they seem to have forgotten that the US refused to issue a visa to Knesset member Michael Ben Ari in 2012 when he was part of the National Union coalition.
This, of course, smacks of hypocrisy.
Ben Ari — a student of hard-right-wing rabbi and politician, Meir Kahane — was denied a visa to the US on the grounds that he had been a member of Kach, Meir Kahane’s now-defunct political party that was outlawed in Israel on the grounds of racism. At some point that same year he co-founded the Kahanist political party, Otzma Yehudit, which translates into English as “Jewish Power” or “Jewish Strength.” (To an American ear, these have very distinct connotations. On their English-language Facebook page they go with “Jewish Strength.”) Otzma Yehudit represents a break-away party from the National Union coalition of right-wing and nationalist political parties, Ben Ari’s former political home and from which he first gained entrance into the Knesset in 2009.
“Progressive-left,” you can be sure, this guy is not.
The Kahanists, after all, also gave us Baruch Goldstein who on February 25, 1994, entered the Cave of the Patriarchs in the heart of Hebron, wearing his army uniform, and opened fire on Arabs in worship, killing 29 people and wounding 125 others. The able-bodied survivors overcame him and beat him to death on the spot. Perhaps dragging Goldstein into this is a bit unfair to Ben Ari but the decision-makers in Washington, D.C. (with Joe Biden sitting in the Vice President’s office) were not oblivious to the reputation of Kahanism from whatever political party it comes out of.
This got me wondering just how heinous is Otzma Yehudit? Among liberal and progressive-left American Jews anything that smacks of Kahane brings to mind racism and violence if not terrorism and Otzma Yehudit is ultimately Kahane’s baby. It is for this reason that the United States outlawed Kahane’s Jewish Defense League as a domestic terrorist organization. Most liberal and progressive-left American Jews are ashamed of Kahane.
I, therefore, decided to examine the political ideology of Otzma Yehudit in order to see what I could make of it from a personal political perspective. Before I proceed, however, I want it understood that none of my conclusions represent an endorsement of Meir Kahane and certainly not of Baruch Goldstein. All I am doing here is cross-referencing the Otzma Yehudit Wikipedia page with its English-language self-described platform (pdf) as hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council located in the San Francisco Bay Area. The reason that I bother with Wikipedia is because, in truth, their description of the party’s platform is concise and closely in line with Otzma Yehudit’s stated principles.
Wikipedia describes Otzma Yehudit as follows:
The party is considered to be Religious Zionist, Kahanist, ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab, and far-right, and has also been described as racist, though the party disputes this.
The English-language self-described platform is very close to this, although they would never describe themselves as anti-Arab. Speaking strictly for myself — as I intend to do throughout the rest of this exercise — this does not sound like a very pleasant platform. As someone who grew up in a Reform Jewish household in both New York and Connecticut, such an ideology is entirely alien to my political sensibilities.
It calls for the annexation of the West Bank, and for complete Israeli rule between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The annexation of Judaea and Samaria is not something that I have a problem with, in theory. The question is how to balance the demographic issue with the international reaction to such a move, which obviously would be considerable. There are ways of easing the demographic issue even under the circumstances of annexation. Thus, I do not necessarily have an issue with the party on this part of the platform. The devil, as always, is in the details.
The party is against the formation of a Palestinian state, and advocates for the cancellation of the Oslo accords, as well as for imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
I tend to agree on all three counts. A Palestinian-Arab state directly in the heart of the Jewish homeland would be a disaster. It would simply continue the process of what I sometimes call The Long Arab-Muslim War against the Jews of the Middle East. It would be a giant launching-pad looking down from the hills upon Tel Aviv.
The Oslo accords are, of course, dead in the water. In truth it was a chimera, to begin with. The reason for this is because the Palestinian-Arab leadership never accepted any offer for statehood. From the Peel Commission of 1937 to the offers from Ehud Barack to Yassir Arafat and Ehud Olmert to Mahmoud Abbas the answer was always an unequivocal “no.” One begins to think that a free and democratic and peaceful Palestinian-Arab state next to Israel is not exactly what they had in mind.
As for the Temple Mount, I sometimes feel bad for the reputation of Moshe Dayan. He was an excellent soldier and an icon of the Movement for Jewish Freedom which we call Zionism. But the Israelis should never have offered the Jordanian Waqf authority on the holiest site of Jewish heritage. Personally, I would like to see the Temple Mount democratized for worship among all faiths under Israeli sovereignty.
So, I am good with the platform on this, as well, although with the caveat that such a move would be exceedingly sensitive and could easily cause Israel much blood and trouble, both internationally and at home. Nonetheless, the status quo is unacceptable because it is entirely unjust to everyone other than Muslims.
The party also advocates for increased teaching of Jewish history in all elementary schools to “deepen Jewish identity in students”.
I find it difficult to believe that anyone who cares about the well-being, and ongoing existence, of the Jewish people, could possibly have any problem with such a proposition.
The party is against “freezing construction of Jewish settlements, releasing terrorists, or negotiating with the PA”.
As I do not necessarily oppose the annexation of Judaea and Samaria, why would I oppose Jewish people living anywhere within the home of our forefathers?
Releasing terrorists, of course, is a wretched idea. It motivates Palestinian-Arab fighters to kidnap Jewish Israelis for the purpose of trading one or two of them for hundreds of terrorists who may go on to kill again.
As for the Palestinian Authority, I find it regrettable that Israel even feels the need to negotiate with those who would see the Jewish population either dead or gone. My inclination, as enemies of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, would be to make them persona non grata, but I also understand that such a thing is easier said than done and the European Union, the United Nations, and the Democratic Party would have ugly things to say, and do, concerning the matter.
The party advocates for the deportation of “Arab extremists”.
I agree with this proposition, but it represents a slippery-slope. The definition of “Arab extremist” must be sharp and tight. Such a proposition could easily slide into an authoritarian position wherein Israel starts deporting people who may not deserve it. So, while I am in broad agreement, I would also keep a sharp eye for the abuse of such a policy. Here, again, the EU, the UN, and the Democratic Party would scream from the hillsides.
On 24 February 2019, party member Itamar Ben Gvir called for the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel who are not loyal to Israel.
I disagree with this entirely because it borders on the fascistic. The standard, in my opinion, should not be one of loyalty, but of actually promoting hatred or violence toward Israel or Jews.
The party advocates for what it calls “Jewish capitalism” as its economic system…
I do not know about “Jewish capitalism” but as a classical liberal who believes in regulatory capitalism, I agree.
The party also supports aiding the elderly and disabled.
Who could possibly disagree?
The party is also opposed to abortion.
I favor a woman’s right to choose an abortion, within certain limitations around what is popularly known as “late-term” abortion. In the case of rape or the health of the mother, I would always stand with a woman’s choice.
The party supports easing restrictions on the IDFs rules of engagement. The party is against price tag attacks.
I agree on both counts and the last thing that Israel needs is to employ soldiers afraid to fire their weaponry. There obviously needs to be rules of engagement, but none of us want to see Jewish soldiers dead or injured because they were paralyzed by concern over the court system.
Overall, I think the party has much to recommend for Israel and for itself.
However, there is a big distinction to be made between a party platform and the behavior of its members and leadership. I do not necessarily see much in the way of racism in the platform, but I am, nonetheless, distinctly uncomfortable with its association with Kahanism.
If I was an Israeli, one thing that might keep me from voting for them would be the matter of trust, but I would give them the opportunity to earn it.
Michael Lumish Blogs at Israel Thrives