Anger over failure to condemn Netanyahu’s far-right tie up
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Anger over failure to condemn Netanyahu’s far-right tie up

Deputies divided on decision as Aipac and top religious-Zionist rabbi Benny Lau condemn cosying up to Kahanists

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 4, 2018. Photo by: JINIPIX
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 4, 2018. Photo by: JINIPIX

The Board of Deputies has drawn mixed reactions over its failure to speak out against the decision of Israel’s PM to join forces with far-right forces.

Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a deal whereby the nationalist-religious Bayit Yehudi would take in the far right party Otzma Yehudit, provoking outrage and concern in the US and UK.

Otzma Yehudit is a home for devotees of the late Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was outlawed after supporter Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer at the Cave of the Patriarch’s Mosque in Hebron in 1994.

In the US, Israel lobbyists Aipac – which never criticises Israeli prime ministers -tweeted that it “has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party”.

The Board’s US partner, the American Jewish Committee, wrote: “The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible.

“They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.”

Even right-wing pundit Eli Lake wrote that this was Netanyahu’s “most cynical ploy yet… [He has] legitimised hateful fanatics until recently considered beyond the pale.

“Even if no Kahanists serve in a future government, the prime minister’s political embrace of them is a stain that cannot be ignored. For this reason alone, Netanyahu and his coalition deserve to lose power when Israelis vote for their next government in eight weeks.”

In Israel, leading religious-Zionist Rabbi Benny Lau went even further, describing the Otzma Yehudit Kahanists as “racists” and a vote for them was like a vote for Nazism.

In the UK, Tal Ofer, deputy on the Board, tweeted on Friday: “The @BoardofDeputies have said they don’t want to comment on political parties and candidates during elections.

“This is moral cowardice and the height of hypocrisy.

“The Board made statements when Trump was elected. They host hustings during elections, and even called on candidates to declare where they stand on Jewish issues.”

He continued: “Turning a blind eye to racism in Israel, and neither is sitting back as these views are encouraged into the mainstream and perhaps into a future government.”

In a letter to the Board, deputy Joe Millis wrote: “This party has leaders who call to expel non-Jews from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the banning of equality for LGBT people and the outlawing of mixed marriages.

Marie van der Zyl

“They will also forbid progressive Jews – who make up a majority of world Jewry and 30 percent of the Board – from having any foothold in the national homeland.

“Most of the party’s members are devotees of Meir Kahane, whose party was banned in Israel and whose sister organisation in the US, the Jewish Defence League, is proscribed in America as a terrorist group.”

He added:  “I was told by [Board President] Marie [van der Zyl] that the Board doesn’t interfere in other countries’ elections. All well and good. However, this is not by any stretch of the imagination ‘interference’; this is expressing anger at the lack of morality of cosying up to a group which if it were a British party would be to the right of the British National Party and National Front.”

Millis asked van der Zyl and senior vice-president Sheila Gewolb: “Would you stay silent if the ruling Christian Democrats in Germany courted neo-Nazis? This is no different.

“How can the Board possibly be expected to be taken seriously on the immorality of Labour anti-Semitism, if it won’t speak out on the Israeli ruling party’s lurch to racism and homophobia in the Jewish state?

“It’s an open goal for every Corbynista who thinks the Board is acting on behalf of the Netanyahu government.”

But several deputies contacted Jewish news to back the president. Gary Mond, a deputy for JNF UJK, said: “It is, in my view, wholly wrong for the Board to get involved in any way whatsoever in the Israeli elections. Like most people, I personally condemn Otzma Yehudit, but believe it is for native Israelis alone to participate in the debate. It is not appropriate for the Board of Deputies, as a British communal body, to voice an opinion on this matter. To do otherwise would be regarding as inappropriate interference.”

Another deputy, Jacob Lyons, said: “Marie van der Zyl’s lack of comment should be applauded. It would be no more appropriate for her to criticise Prime Minister Netanyahu’s choice of coalition than it would be for her to criticise Prime Miniater May’s choice of coalition . AIPAC as a non-partisan organisation should take example from her and the Board’s leadership.”

CEO of New Israel Fund UK Daniel Sokatch said on Wednesday: “Whether it’s in the United States or in Israel, we stand with all Israelis and against those who use violence, terror, and supremacist ideologies to divide and rule by fear.

“Elected leaders have a sacred responsibility to protect Israelis from violent extremists– not promote them.”

The Board of Deputies was approached for comment but did not immediately reply.

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