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Netanyahu strikes 'frightening' election deal with extremist Israeli parties

Netanyahu's election gambit drew widespread criticism. [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 February, 2019

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Netanyahu struck an election deal with a far-right party on Wednesday that could give followers of the late anti-Palestinian extremist rabbi, Meir Kahane, a stronger voice in Israeli politics.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reached a preliminary election deal with two fringe far-right religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hard-line bloc ahead of April elections.

Netanyahu's Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the Jewish Power party.

Recent polls project Likud winning about 30 of Parliament's 120 seats, while Jewish Home and Jewish Power may not have enough support to enter Parliament on their own.

Together, the two small parties would likely cross the electoral threshold and capture several parliamentary seats.

Read also: The US and Israel's radical right Kahane connections

The Jewish Home party sealed the deal in a committee vote on Wednesday, a day before parties running the 9 April parliamentary election must finalise their line-ups.

Among the prominent figures in the joint Jewish Home-Jewish Power list are Bezalel Smotrich, a self-avowed "proud homophobe," Itamar Ben Gvir, an attorney who has made a career defending radical Israeli settlers implicated in violence in the occupied West Bank, and Benzi Gopstein, leader of an extremist anti-assimilation group whose Twitter handle translates to "Kahane was right."

Jewish Power is comprised of hard-line religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the banned Kahanist movement, which dreamed of turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and advocated the forced removal of Palestinians.

'Despicable' alliance

The late American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish Defense League is considered a terrorist organization by the FBI.

Kahane's movement was subsequently banned from Israeli politics as racist. He was assassinated in 1990 in New York by an Egyptian-born American.

In 1994, settler Baruch Goldstein – a fervent supporter of Meir Kahane – gunned down 29 Palestinians in Hebron's Ibrahimi mosque.

The grandson of Kahane, Meir Ettinger, was involved in a deadly arson attack on a Palestinian West Bank home that killed two parents and their 18-month-old boy in 2015.

Netanyahu's gambit drew criticism from opposition politicians. Head of left-wing Meretz party Tamar Zandberg said it was "frightening" that Netanyahu had struck a deal with the Jewish Power party.

"It is frightening that Kahanists are on their way to the Knesset," Zandberg tweeted, "and even more frightening that the Prime Minister is the match-maker in the red wedding of this Jewish terror organization and the Knesset."

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay called the move "bankruptcy" of the Likud party's values.

Benny Gantz, a former army chief who is Netanyahu's main challenger, criticized the prime minister's courting of extremists. His Israeli Resilience party said: "Netanyahu lost touch with his Zionism and with his dignity."

Times of Israel editor David Horovitz wrote that while Wednesday's agreement made political sense for Netanyahu, it was "despicable".

Netanyahu's move to unite right-wing nationalist parties ahead of Thursday's party list deadline was one of several last-minute negotiations across the spectrum to form broader blocs.

Gantz and Yair Lapid, a leading opposition politician and former finance minister, also spent much of Wednesday hashing out a possible centrist union.

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