(February 24, 2019 / JNS)
Like it or not, extreme right-wing and populist parties are a phenomenon in the world. Netherlands’ Party for Freedom to France’s National Rally, Hungary’s Jobbik and Austria’s Freedom Party all have seats at the parliamentary table, with various degrees of success. But none have been outlawed.
The European Populist and far-right parties were formed because a segment of society perceived Islamic migration and the erosion of national identity as an existential threat. Israel’s Otzma is no different, and given the prevalent jihadist mentality that surrounds (and permeates) the Jewish state, its emergence is even more understandable. Indeed, in the last elections, Otzma was only a few thousand votes short of passing the electoral threshold and entering the Knesset with four seats.
The Israeli left’s apoplectic reaction to the inclusion of Otzma into a technical block is mysterious. The left calls for a two-state solution through which Arabs living in the West Bank will be sealed behind a wall, never to be seen again in the Jewish state—an idea that sounds kind of racist. Moreover, two-state solutionists seek to kick out Jews from their homes as they have done before in favor of a newly minted Palestine—a concept that sounds a lot like ethnic-cleansing. Now, these very same proponents of removing Jews look down from their high horse of moral superiority at a right-wing party that calls to expel terrorists so that Jews can be safe from jihad in their ancestral heartland.
The Palestinian Authority often calls for a “Day of Rage” in response to events like Jewish visits on the Temple Mount. But the Jewish left thinks that there is no place for Jewish rage at all. When Kim Vinograd is tied up and shot in the head in the Barkan industrial zone by a Palestinian terrorist, there is no rage. When Ori Ansbacher is raped and murdered while meditating in a Jerusalem forest, there is no rage. When rabbis are butchered in a Har Nof synagogue, there is no rage. But when a small ultra-nationalist party wants to get democratically voted in, then suddenly those that feel politically threatened express their misplaced rage.
My own discomfort with Otzma comes from a very conscious decision I have made to distinguish between the Jihad and its various supporters and Arabs generally, many of which want none of it. While I’m a “settler,” I think that the right-wing has the key to Arab-Jewish reconciliation and harmony. Just this week, members of the Hebron Jewish Community took part in an amazing event called the Israeli-Palestinian Economic Forum run by the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The event was attended by Palestinian business leaders, Muslim religious clerics and settlers who all live together in the Israeli heartland. On hand were also innovators from around the world hoping the create joint projects in the fields of tourism, energy and production. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman was there, as well as Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Not surprisingly, the two-state proponents including Peace Now and the Palestinian Authority were not in attendance.
But Otzma’s rhetoric in the past—and the rage they previously expressed—has not reflected a precise distinction between Jihadist Arab and tolerant Arab. And while I share Otzma’s strong feelings of Jewish defense, and am deeply committed to fighting land giveaway, I still see a future in which Arabs and Jewish communities can exist harmoniously. And I would like my political representation to reflect this. I am hopeful that Otzma will gain political experience and maturity and broadcast a more nuanced message.
However, even with some boorishness, Otzma, an ultra-nationalist Jewish party, certainly has the right to run for representation in the parliament of the Jewish state. Let the people decide who should sit in the Knesset. Moreover, it would be refreshing if the Jewish left would reveal as much rancor as they have shown this week for Otzma, for some members of Israeli Arab Knesset parties who in any other country would be tried for sedition. If Ahmad Tibi, the former assistant to the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, has a right to be in the Israeli Knesset, then so does Otzma.
The Israeli parliament is all about debate in the great Jewish tradition. Even if you don’t like them, Otzma, like similar European ultra-national parties, represents a legitimate voice and has a right to a seat at the table. Maybe Israel would benefit from debating their ideology from the floor of the democratically elected Parliament.
Yishai Fleisher is the international spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron.