Netanyahu spars with AIPAC, AJC over controversial right-wing alliance

Using social media to make a rare break into the politically charged debate over upcoming Israeli elections, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee took political positions on the inclusion of the Otzma Yehudit Party in a technical bloc with the Jewish Home Party.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on March 2, 2017. Credit: Maxine Dovere.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 2015 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on March 2, 2017. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

American pro-Israel groups took to social media to make rare comments on Israeli internal politics, decrying an alliance between the right-wing Jewish Home and further right Otzma Yehudit parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aided the vote-sharing merger in an attempt to ensure that his natural coalition partners would cross the minimum electoral threshold in upcoming April elections. The harsh critiques of the inclusion of Otzma Yehudit by American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee, elicited strong responses across Israel’s political spectrum, as left-wing parties supported the statements while Netanyahu and Otzma Yehudit fired back.

AJC wrote on twitter stating that “the views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel,“ directing followers to a link expanding upon their full political views. AJC’s primary mission since its founding in 1906 has been to secure civil rights for Jews in the United States.

The group noted that it “normally [does not] comment on political parties and candidates during an election,” but that in this particular case it was “compelled to speak out.” AJC added that “historically, the views of extremist parties, reflecting the extreme left or the extreme right, have been firmly rejected by mainstream parties,” a loosely worded allusion to Netanyahu’s assistance in facilitating the merger.

The AJC’s tweet was backed by AIPAC, who tweeted, “We agree with AJC. AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.”

While AIPAC’s stated mission is to “strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel,” its website states that its goal is to encourage “all members of Congress to support Israel through foreign aid, government partnerships, joint anti-terrorism efforts and the promotion of a negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish State of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

Discussing red lines on both the left and right

Netanyahu took to Facebook to condemn criticism for the inclusion of Otzma in the technical agreement, but did not specifically mention the comments by AIPAC or AJC. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at the AIPAC policy conference in late March in Washington, D.C.

“What hypocrisy and double standards by the left,” he wrote on Facebook. “They are condemning a right-wing majority bloc with right-wing parties, while the left acted to bring extreme Islamists into the Knesset to create a majority bloc.”

Netanyahu listed numerous instances in which Israeli left-wing leaders including Ehud Barak and Shelly Yachimovich and the Labor and Meretz parties partnered with or supported anti-Israel Arab candidates and parties.

Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz praised AIPAC’s comments stating that the unusual foray into internal Israeli politics “proves that Benjamin Netanyahu has once again crossed ethical red lines just to keep his seat, while causing serious harm to Israel’s image, Jewish morality and our important relationship with American Jewry.”

“When even our good friends feel the need to condemn, then it should be clear that a red line has been crossed,” wrote Yair Lapid, who has brought his Yesh Atid Party into a technical alliance with Gantz to form the Blue and White list to challenge Netanyahu.

Just hours after AIPAC posted its tweet, it confirmed that Netanyahu would address the group’s massive annual policy conference in March, posting a tweet featuring a smiling Netanyahu and noting that the organization was “honored to announce” his participation. Blue and White Party leaders Gantz and Lapid have also been invited to speak, but it is unclear whether they will choose to participate.

Otzma Yehudit said that groups like AIPAC “want to see the rise of the Israeli left to power and will be happy with a government that hands over territories and gives weapons to the enemy.” The right-wing party also suggested that members of AIPAC should move to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship “before they involve themselves in elections.”

“In any case, AIPAC’s hypocrisy rings loud and clear: We have never heard AIPAC condemn so strongly Joint Arab List MK’s Hanin Zoabi and Ahmad Tibi running for the Knesset,” they said in a statement. “They also never came out against certain Israeli leftists, such as Ofer Cassif, who called to cancel the Jewish state.”

Otzma Yehudit’s policy positions laid out on its website include support for aliyah, full Israeli control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the preservation of national lands, eviction of Arabs affiliated with anti-Israel movements, encouragement and assistance in emigration for Arabs who have expressed an interest in leaving Israel, an effort to reduce the abortion rate and encouragement of businesses in periphery areas.

The party’s foremost candidates are students of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, a former Israeli Knesset member whose controversial views on Arabs in Israel led to his party being banned in the Knesset.

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