OPINION: What Kahanists in the Knesset means for Israeli-Diaspora relations
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OPINION: What Kahanists in the Knesset means for Israeli-Diaspora relations

Haim Shalom, who is part of an egalitarian liberal community in Jerusalem, reflects on the Israeli election results which brought elements of the far-right into Parliament

Itamar Ben Gvir (R), head of Israel's Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, cheers to supporters at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on March 22, 2021 while campaigning a day ahead of the fourth national election. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP) (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)
Itamar Ben Gvir (R), head of Israel's Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party, cheers to supporters at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on March 22, 2021 while campaigning a day ahead of the fourth national election. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP) (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

When Rabbi Meir Kahane would speak in the Knesset, the then Likud Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir would stand up and walk out of the Knesset. He said of Kach, Kahane’s party, that, “This dangerous phenomenon will pass, because no public figure or member of Knesset supports it.” Shamir was wrong.

The “dangerous phenomenon” did not pass. It went underground for a while, but the racist, Jewish supremacist ideology of Kahane has remained alive and well in certain pockets of the settler movement. Israel thought that we had inoculated our parliament from fringe extremist elements by raising the electoral threshold to 3.25%. We hadn’t reckoned on the desperation of one man to stay in power.

More lives than a cat, more tricks than a pony, more brains than an University Challenge team, there is a reason why Bibi Netanyahu is now the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister, and he didn’t get their by being a nice guy.

What was unthinkable to his predecessor, Shamir, became a goal for Netanyahu in his attempt to guarantee yet another return to Balfour. Netanyahu, worried about votes being lost on the right, brokered an agreement for three extremist parties to join together under the simple banner: “Religious Zionism”, but behind the seemingly unthreatening name lies one of the most fierce and dangerous extremists Israel has ever know.

Rabbi Haim Shalom

Itamar Ben Gvir is a proud former member of Kach. Barred from serving in the IDF over his extremist views, he idolises Baruch Goldstein, murderer of 29 Muslims and in 1995,  he appeared on TV, holding a Cadillac symbol, boasting, “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too.” Shortly after, Rabin was murdered. He has advocated for the transfer of Arabs from Israel and has consistently represented Jewish terrorists in court.

What does Ben Gvir in the Knesset mean for Israeli-Diaspora relations? We might think that Netanyahu no longer cares at all how Israel affects Jews in the Diaspora and no longer cares what most Diaspora Jews think of Israel. But we already know that Netanyahu is not just clever, but a political genius. He knows what Diaspora Jews will think of a politician who makes Enoch Powell look like a teddy bear, and Tommy Robinson look like a puppy dog.

It isn’t that Netanyahu doesn’t care – he is actively sabotaging the Diaspora-Israel relationship.

He has for a long time understood that for him personally, an alliance with the Evangelical Christian Right in America is more beneficial than the Jewish Diaspora. His help in getting Kahanists into the Knesset may seem like a tragic mistake to us, but it was most definitely not. The only sensible response for those who love Israel is to double down on our efforts to keep Israel a true democracy which rejects this racist extremism.

 

  • Haim Shalom is the Rabbi of Kehillat Mevakshei Derech – a democratic egalitarian liberal community in Jerusalem.

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