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Gurvitz: Netanyahu deal with Jewish supremacist party was ‘a long time coming’

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under heavy fire over the past week for his orchestration of a political alliance between the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) parties, the latter of which is made up of followers of the late Rabbi Kahane, a notorious racist and champion of Jewish supremacy.

Despite Kahane’s original Kach party being deemed internationally as a terrorist organization and outlawed in Israel, Netanyahu pushed the alliance after fears that without the so-called “Kahanists” in their ranks, the Jewish Home party would not be able to reach the electoral threshold, thus jeopardizing his ability to form a right-wing majority bloc after the April 9 elections.

Kahane, an American-born Israeli, openly declared that Israel could not be both Jewish and democratic, and repeatedly called for the forcible transfer of Palestinians, suggesting a payment to those Palestinians voluntarily leaving Israel and the occupied territories, and the forcible expulsion for anyone refusing to leave.

His followers have conducted a series of terror attacks on Palestinians and left-wing Jewish Israelis. His most notorious follower was Baruch Goldstein — the American-Israeli doctor who massacred 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.

Netanyahu’s deal, which could pave the way for Kahanists to have a seat in the Knesset, has drawn widespread criticism from Rabbis, educators, Jewish-American organizations, US politicians, and even AIPAC, who called the Jewish Power party “racist and reprehensible.”

Even Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who has called for the annexation of the West Bank and shoot-to-kill policies in Gaza, disavowed the Kahanists over the merger with his former Jewish Home party, saying “I don’t accept their positions.”

Mondoweiss spoke with Israeli journalist and blogger Yossi Gurvitz about the deal that has rocked the election cycle, how it could affect the outcome of April 9th elections, and what it means for the future of Israeli politics.

Mondoweiss: Were you surprised by the Netanyahu-backed merger of the Jewish  Home and Jewish Power parties?

Yossi Gurvitz, Tel Aviv, May 2018. Photo by Leszno.

Gurvitz: I was shocked, but I was not surprised. Let me tell you what I mean: this was a long time coming. Basically, Netanyahu has allied with extreme right-wing MK Betzalel Smotrich, who talks about ethnically cleansing Palestinians and committing genocide. If you have this guy in your coalition, it’s only a small leap from Smotrich to Jewish Power. Netanyahu has been veering in direction of Jewish Supremacy for a long time. The Jewish Home party, not only Smotrich, has been trying to implement Kahanist policies for years now. So while yes it was shock, it was not a surprise.

Mondoweiss: Do you think the deal has strengthened Netanyahu’s chances of reelection?

Gurvitz: The volatility of the system at the moment, and before every election, makes such predictions tricky. I think this has a chance of increasing size of Netanyahu’s bloc by one or two seats. Then again, the other smaller parties in his bloc may lose enough seats to be wiped out totally. You can’t really know until the elections. The Shas party is hovering on the four-seat line, so merging the Jewish Home and Jewish Power parties, might wipe Shas or one of the other parties out.

It’s not clear what he [Netanyahu] will gain out of it. It is clear that he will not be able to lead a government on his own after elections; he needs to maximize every right wing vote in the country, including those who were considered taboo a few years ago.

Mondoweiss: What is the impact of this merger on the upcoming election, and Israeli politics in general?

Gurvitz: This is definitely moving Israeli politics to the right by legitimizing the Kahanists. We can see this already today when there was actually a debate on army radio about Baruch Goldstein and his massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. One of the leaders of the Jewish Power party, Itamar Ben Gvir, has a picture hanging in his home of Goldstein.

He has refused to remove the picture despite many requests. He was saying he didn’t put the picture up because he supported the massacre, but because Goldstein was a doctor “who saved Jewish lives.”

So politicians from Labor and Likud were actually debating this. This topic should not even be up for debate, but by Netanyahu bringing the Kahanists back into the mainstream, we are now debating whether it is acceptable to celebrate someone who massacred Palestine.

Mondoweiss: Do you think Netanyahu’s right wing bloc, despite the criticisms, is an accurate reflection of right-leaning trends within Israeli society?

Gurvitz: I will say the policies of the Kahanists are becoming more and more acceptable on the right. We’ve seen greater tolerance of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since mainstream zionism is basically at its end. You either recognize the Palestinians and want them to have their own state or accept a one state solution, or you try ignore them, or as Smotrich and others advocate for, you wipe them out. This position is becoming more acceptable to talk about. I think most people would reject outright killing, but they would support home demolitions and forced expulsion, which is just the gateway to the former.

Mondoweiss: There has been criticism from AIPAC and U.S. senators, saying the merger legitimizes racists and put them into the Knesset. What do you say to this, given the fact that the Israeli knesset is already filled with bonafide racists who advocate for the oppression of Palestinians?

Gurvitz: This phenomenon of criticizing extremists while supporting other, more closeted racist policies, is what we are seeing in israeli society. AIPAC cannot be openly racist, it can support policies that are racist, as long as they aren’t named as such. So if you look at basically everything the IDF has been doing in the West Bank for past 50 years, as long as they say it’s temporary and for security, you can somehow support it. But once it becomes a matter of open racism, it changes. The Kahanists aren’t just about hating Palestinians, they hate all non-Jews, they attack churches as well. So you can’t support this and then hide behind “security” reasons.

Mondoweiss: Netanyahu’s government and the Israeli state, since its founding, have been enacting racist policies against Palestinians and even non-European Jews. So why is everyone suddenly shocked by this deal? Do you think it’s genuine outrage, or just for show?

Gurvitz: I do believe people are genuinely shocked. Many Jewish liberals are genuinely shocked, because this is the big taboo, it is openly saying Israel is a racist entity, and racism has a place in its parliament. Whenever Kahane used to come to speak in the Knesset, everyone would leave the hall.

Mondoweiss: But what is the difference between the Kahanists and people like Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, who call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, just in more “diplomatic” ways?

Gurvit: Yes, it is not different from Bennett or Shaked. But the tone is totally different. Naftali Bennett says we have to act as a democracy, while of course undermining the democratic process. But the Kahanists say “we are not a democracy, we are a Jewish state, and we are not bound by the laws of democracy.”

Mondoweiss: Some critics say that Netanyahu’s deal with the Kahanists will, in the least, “pull the mask” and reveal the true face of the Israeli state — similar to opinions after Trump was elected. What do you say to this?

Gurvitz: This approach assumes that once you see the face of the beast you can slay it; but what if you can’t? I think every society should have norms of what is permissible and what is not. I despise racism in all its forms: hidden and out in the open. But supporting the Kahanists is equivalent to  the resurgence of the KKK gangs in the streets of the US.

What frightens me about this, is this will affect the behavior of the Israeli army, particularly in the West Bank. Soldiers will now believe, more than before, that they are allowed to kill Palestinians with full impunity. Bringing the Kahanists back into the fold of Israeli politics is legitimizing violence, racist violence, against Palestinians and all non-Jews.

Mondoweiss: If Netanyahu wins in April and forms this bloc, do you think the U.S. or Israeli politicians who have condemned his support of the Kahanists would take any actual measures against the premiere?

Gurvitz: I don’t think any action will be taken, assuming Netanyahu actually manages to create a coalition, which at the moment is questionable. Assuming he or any other Likud member manages to keep Kahanists in coalition, they likely won’t face any huge repercussions. No country will return its ambassador, no one will shut down its embassy — unless there is major violence that occurs as a result.

Mondoweiss: What will the long and short term impact be on Israeli and Palestinian society if Netanyahu wins in April and sees this bloc through?

Gurvitz: Israeli society would see more problems. Now you have to fight against positions that were considered indefensible a week ago; now you have to fight and argue that someone who commits a massacre should be denounced. If these people go after high governmental ministerial positions, it will legitimize Israel’s decline into an overt anti-democracy, and hopefully, at the same time it will radicalise what remains of the left in Israel.

What we will see in the West Bank is more settler violence, and even less attempts by the army and the police to reign in this violence. They are not doing a good job as it is, and they are likely to do a worse job if there are Kahanists in power.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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4 Responses

  1. eljay on February 26, 2019, 12:04 pm

    It seems that it wasn’t too long ago that Zionists could proudly boast that their “moral beacon”, “light unto the nations”, “Western-style democracy” and “progressive paradise” state wasn’t quite as bad as Saudi Arabia, Mali, African “hellholes”, etc.

    And now it seems that it won’t be too long before the “Jewish State” is at the bottom of the morality barrel and scrabbling alongside those countries.

    Birds of hateful and immoral feather…

  2. Elizabeth Block on February 27, 2019, 9:42 am

    “Kahane, an American-born Israeli, openly declared that Israel could not be both Jewish and democratic.” Well, he was right. And I’m afraid the choice was made a long time ago. I was there three years ago, and we had a briefing from a woman with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, who said she did not use the word “genocide” to describe what was happening now. She was waiting until it actually starts.

    Interesting that liberal Jews were shocked. It appears that they don’t object to what the Kahanists want to do – it’s already happening, maybe on a smaller scale – only to their saying so openly. I’m reminded of a Jewish couple who came by a vigil some years ago, who were furious – not because they disputed the truth of what we were saying (they didn’t), but because we were saying it in front of the goyim.

  3. Misterioso on February 27, 2019, 10:44 am

    Once again, Miko Peled nails it!!

    “Netanyahu Finds Israeli Ultra-Right Parties Suited to His Political Purposes”

    “The members of Otsma Yehudit are thugs and some have been designated as terrorists, and Netanyahu has more stately manners. But their objectives and their actions are in perfect sync.”

    By Miko Peled, Feb. 25/2019, MPN News

    JERUSALEM, OCCUPIED PALESTINE — “As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters into an alliance with the Israeli equivalent of neo-Nazis, media outlets — including the Washington Post and The Forward — and even AIPAC express uneasiness. However, for Netanyahu, this political partnership makes sense ideologically and politically. Netanyahu shares the racist-nationalist ideology of these extremist groups and, since there is a mad rush to the right within Israel’s political parties, Netanyahu, wanting to win the race, is now in an alliance with the most right-wing group on the Israeli political map — and that is saying a lot!

    “The Partners”
    “Otsma Yehudit, or Jewish Might, states in its party platform, in the ‘Enemies of Israel’ section: ‘The fight against the enemies of Israel will be total and without compromise. There will be no compromises or negotiations. The party will act to enforce Israeli sovereignty on all parts of Eretz Israel that were liberated in the 1967 war and it will work to sort out the status of the enemies of Israel in the Arab states that surround Israel.’

    “The platform also states that the party will act to see that all the enemies of Israel will emigrate and leave the country, returning to their countries of origin — and this out of a desire to keep Israel’s Jewish character. The party will fight without compromise to end the theft of land and will act to redeem the lands of Israel in the Naqab, the Galilee and elsewhere in the spirit of the JNF.

    “On the issue of Government and Morals, the charter states that the Jewish character of the state will take precedence over any ‘universal values:’ ‘We do not wish to lose the Jewish state by war or peace or Western Democracy.’

    “To clarify some of the terminology, the ‘enemies of Israel’ are the Palestinians, whom this party calls to expel. Their countries of origin are, according to this party, other Arab states. The general prevailing view among radical Zionists is that Palestine belongs to the Jews and that the Palestinians are invaders.

    “The JNF, or Jewish National Fund, has been the major force behind Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the covering of destroyed Palestinian villages with forests. On its website JNF claims that ‘We planted more than a quarter-billion trees in what was once a barren desert.’ Which is true — except for the part about it being a barren desert. JNF further states that ‘We see the Negev and Galilee regions blooming with new families attracted by vibrant communities, meaningful work and affordable housing.’ Again this is true — except for the fact that these new vibrant communities exclude the indigenous Palestinian Bedouin for whom the Naqab has been home since time immemorial. Furthermore, all of the development takes place on Bedouin lands.

    “Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home) was established by Naftali Bennett, who now serves as Minister of Education. Bennett left the party to create a new party — a secular, right-wing party for ‘Israeli, right-wing Jews’ — called ‘Yamin Hadash’ or New Right.

    “Though one is a religious party using religious values as its core values, and the other calls for unity between religious and secular Israeli Jews, on the issue of the Land of Israel they are identical: The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews; Jews and only Jews have national rights on the land; there will be no compromises or negotiations on the land; settling the land with Jews is a national priority. They also claim they believe that minorities should have citizenship rights.

    “This last clause is problematic because if it is a Jewish state with Jewish symbols and priority is given to the settling of the land with Jews, this already negates the possibility that equal rights will be offered to the minorities. These minorities, who are the Palestinians, are in fact the majority between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, so once again there is a clear inconsistency here that can be attributed to the fact that they have no intention of giving any rights to Palestinians.

    “In addition to that, Palestinians, being the indigenous people of the land, should be provided not only citizenship rights but national rights.

    “Though these two parties are now running against each other, it is likely that they will sit together in a coalition government once Netanyahu is elected.

    “The main player”
    “The only stable party that remains significant in today’s Israeli political map is the Likud party, which is headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Its charter resembles that of the other parties, which so many find hard to stomach:

    “‘Protecting the rights of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel is an eternal and unquestionable right. Developing and settling all parts of the land of Israel and extending Israeli sovereignty onto all parts of the Land of Israel.’

    “The Likud too calls for equal rights to all citizens and encouraging minorities to be included in the state. Since the Likud has a history of governing otherwise, particularly in the last decade under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu, it is clear that these calls are merely lip service.

    “In an interview I gave recently, I stated that the entire orchestra of people and organizations that criticize Netanyahu for his political alliance with these right-wing parties is pure hypocrisy. He shares their ideology and it makes political sense for him to align with them. Comparing them to the KKK or to Neo-nazis is not wrong, but one must remember that they are the cutting edge of Zionism and the State of Israel.

    “They are the ‘soldiers’ who push the limits and allow the official state policies to move forward. The members of Otsma Yehudit are thugs and some have been designated as terrorists, and Netanyahu has more stately manners. But their objectives and their actions are in perfect sync.


    “Top Photo | An election campaign poster with the image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lies among ballot papers at his party’s election headquarters, in Tel Aviv. Dan Balilty | AP

    “Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

  4. Rashers2 on February 27, 2019, 5:16 pm

    The community of nations (fragile and ever-shifting, at best) and many of the nation states themselves are shattering into lethal shards pointing in increasingly extreme directions, driven by ideologies that the ideologues must themselves know are based on premises deriving from anything between barefaced revisionism and absolute, 180° falsehoods, e. g. “The general prevailing view among radical Zionists is that Palestine belongs to the Jews and that the Palestinians are invaders.” – igiK…..
    The post- WWII environment of broad although by no means universal respect for international law and, in the Western democracies, at least of the pretence on the behalf of executives/administrations that they implemented the wills of legislatures and were not above and beyond the reach of their judiciaries, is in flames. Successive US presidents from Truman on, aided in many cases by their “allied” counterparts in other countries, have gathered the kindling and stacked the timber, the GWBs, Blairs and their henchmen have liberally doused on the accelerant and Trump, Mileikowsky and their cohorts, the Orbáns et al., are busy tossing in the lighted matches. Montesquieu and the Rule of Law, R. I. P.
    Truth appears now to have been utterly debased as a currency. Within my lifetime, the careers of politicians publicly caught lying about matters of state were over – when it became inescapable that Anthony Eden (British prime minister) had lied to the House of Commons over the Suez Canal crisis, his political career, his reputation and his legacy as a statesman were all in ruins. Trump, by contrast, lies every time he opens his mouth and it no longer raises eyebrows or seemingly costs him much if any support among his “base”; even his opponents have become inured to the steady torrent of untruths and reckless miss-statements cascading from his lips or his Twitter-feed.
    Never have I been so pessimistic about what the future holds for the Palestinian people (and for many others); and never so ready to take to streets to protest against injustice and to make the truth heard because, unless forced otherwise, politicians are dependable to do the wrong thing.

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