Today’s political hyperpolarization is not unique to the United States. Around the world, we see alarming evidence of fraying democracy, creeping authoritarianism and a tolerance of hate that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
Sad to say, Israel is not immune to these insidious forces. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently inflamed an already heated political landscape by inviting into his right-wing coalition Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), the party of adherents to the racist and violent ideology of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
This is merely a desperate move by the prime minister to keep his Likud-led government in power, a need made more urgent by his recent indictment on bribery charges. He now faces a real challenge in the April 9 elections from the newly created Blue and White party, a coalition of moderate, left and center-left parties led by former IDF chief Benny Gantz.
For the past three decades, Kahanism was eschewed by every political party and coalition government in Israel. That unified front has now, tragically, crumbled.
Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tried to put the brakes on Jewish Power, backing a petition to block its chairman, Michael Ben-Ari, from entering the Knesset.
But this week, the Israeli Central Elections Committee ruled that Ben-Ari, along with another Otzma Yehudit candidate joining him on a slate of far-right parties, would both be allowed to run.
Should they win, the Knesset will then include members who have advocated for the transfer of Arabs, including Israeli citizens, from Israel proper and the occupied territories. Ben Ari has called for massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, according to Noah Siegel, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who served in Israel 10 years ago.
When staunchly pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee unify to oppose the political sanctioning of an extremist party, it seems clear that Netanyahu’s move could further alienate many American Jews from Israel, even as it whittles away at support for Israel in Congress.
As former Jewish Community Relations Council executive director Rabbi Doug Kahn says in a J. op-ed, Netanyahu’s embrace of this reprehensible political party “crosses a red line.”
He called it a sad day, and we agree.
As Jewish Americans we have had no problem speaking out against the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in America, from Charlottesville to Pittsburgh. We should be equally vocal in criticizing similar forms of hatred in the Jewish homeland.