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Otzma Yehudit is out. Does that mean Israelis reject Kahanism?

While the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party failed to pass the electoral threshold, the latest national elections in Israel saw the normalization of Kahane’s particular brand of overt racism.

Right wing activists attend a ceremony honoring the late Rabbi Meir Kahane in Jerusalem on November 17, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Right wing activists attend a ceremony honoring the late Rabbi Meir Kahane in Jerusalem on November 17, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Twenty-one years ago, Rabbi Meir Kahane stared into the camera during an election ad for his Kach party and told viewers, “[the Arabs of Israel] want to kill us, they want to wipe us out, and it is up to each and every Jew to rise up and say, ‘never again.’”

Last Wednesday, six days out from the most recent Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook chatbot sent users a message warning them of the dangers of a “left-wing, secular, weak government that relies on Arabs who want to annihilate us all — women, children, and men.” That is why, the message said, voters needed to guarantee his place at the head of a right-wing, Jewish, “strong” government.

Although Netanyahu claimed that the message was created due to a staff error, it in fact made explicit the subtext to his central campaign tactic for these elections: incessant demonization of Palestinians, in the belief that stoking fear and hatred was the most likely route to victory.

Accordingly, over the past few weeks, the prime minister has assailed Palestinian citizens of Israel from every conceivable direction. He announced that Arabs were trying to “steal” the election; repeatedly issued ominous statements about a looming “left-Arab government;” and on Election Day itself, resuscitated his tactic of telling his supporters that the Arab turnout was at unprecedented levels.

This web of anti-Arab lies, incitement and paranoia wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Kach campaign flyer. Indeed, taken together, this messaging is simply a more elaborate version of another statement Kahane made in his 1988 election broadcast, while standing in Jerusalem’s Old City and lamenting that the city had become unlivable for Jews: “Look around: Arabs, Arabs, and more Arabs. What’s it going to be like in 10 years?”

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Netanyahu is not, of course, a true Kahanist. For one thing, he has no interest in a Jewish theocracy, as much as he’s willing to advocate for those who do if it’ll keep him in power. Nor does he talk of “transferring” Palestinians out of the West Bank, although his embrace of annexation is a slippery slope. Netanyahu’s politics, rather, revolve around keeping himself and his family indefinitely ensconced in the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street.

As Netanyahu’s grip on power has looked increasingly shaky in recent elections, however, he has leaned into Kahane’s brand of industrious, histrionic racism as a means of agitating his base. His traditional clutch move of invoking looming military threats from Gaza and the rest of the Middle East has now been overtaken by his conjuring up of a peril much closer to home — “the enemy within” — in order to maintain his reputation as “Mr. Security” and, with it, the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office.

It was not immediately clear in the wake of 2015’s “Arabs are going to the polls in droves” fiasco that this marked the start of a new electoral tactic for Netanyahu. Given how successful it was, the idea that this extravagant display of racism might prove a one-off was perhaps naive. Netanyahu did not pay a price for introducing a dose of Kahanism into his election-day messaging; on the contrary, it may well have saved him his job.

In April of this year, the prime minister went one better and personally intervened on behalf of the Otzma Yehudit party, populated by Kahane’s political progeny and faithful to his ideology. At the same time, Netanyahu consistently warned that a victory for the Blue and White party would bring Palestinians into the government. Once again, despite domestic and international uproar, Netanyahu did not pay a political price for his maneuvering or his message. Instead, he chalked up another electoral victory, albeit far less comfortably than in 2015.

In the most recent election cycle, incitement against Palestinians — alongside efforts to suppress the Palestinian vote through intimidation — was the central plank in Netanyahu’s campaign. And now, even as there is evidence that his racist ploy backfired by galvanizing Palestinian voters, Netanyahu is continuing to frame his premiership as one defined by its negation of Arabs.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech following the results of the 2019 elections at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech following the results of the 2019 elections at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In telling his meager crowd of supporters at the Likud post-election party that he had a “Jewish majority,” he effectively erased Palestinian voters from the democratic process. And in doubling down on his doomsday warnings about Palestinians entering the government if he is not prime minister, Netanyahu is distilling his message into a simple slogan: it’s me or the Arabs. Kahane would have approved.

As it happens, Kahane never made it into the Knesset in 1988. His Kach party was barred from running, officially because of its racist platform, but actually because his right-wing opponents feared he would eat into their support. This fact, along with the party’s outright ban not long after, is still heralded as evidence of the Israeli state being able to rein in dangerous levels of bigotry when they appear in its polity.

Yet the evidence does not support that assertion. Firstly, as Ron Cahlili recently wrote on this site, and as has been made so patently clear during the last few elections — not least by the prime minister himself — “hatred of Arabs as a political ideology is part of the mainstream political discourse.” And secondly, because Otzma Yehudit — a Kahanist party through-and-through — ran in both 2019 elections on a platform strikingly similar to the one that purportedly led to Kach’s outlawing.

Ah, but the counter-argument goes: the Israeli electorate thoroughly repudiated Otzma Yehudit this time round, giving them less than 2 percent of the vote share and thereby ensuring that they remain outside the Knesset. Like the response to the Kach ban, Otzma Yehudit’s showing at these elections is being offered as proof that Israelis rejected outlandish racism.

This conclusion overlooks the fact that Otzma Yehudit didn’t even need to run this time for Kahanist rhetoric and tactics to play a role in these elections. It’s easy to sideline, marginalize and mock fascists who are already in the shadow of vast political machines. The real test is when such sentiments come barreling out of the prime minister’s office. And on that front, the fact that Otzma Yehudit fell short is cold comfort indeed.

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    COMMENTS

    1. itshak Gordine

      [the Arabs of Israel] want to kill us, they want to wipe us out, and it is up to each and every Jew to rise up and say, ‘never again.’”
      How is this sentence shocking or racist? I specify that I am not a member of Otsma Yehoudit. On the other hand, what is racist and shocking is the affirmation of the negationist Mahmoud Abbas, president of the entity that rages in Ramallah that the Jewish people are foreign to the Land of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        you’re swiss, i.e. foreign to the land.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Of course no. Like any Jew, I’m home, back in my ancestral homeland ..

          Reply to Comment
          • john

            if you had to immigrate, you’re a foreigner. look it up in larousse under: colonialism.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            Is a Seneca person born in Switzerland a foreigner to New York? Should I call them a colonist for coming here? What if I’m pretty sure I have Seneca blood and suspect they might really be a Turkish imposter, despite having no solid evidence of either of those beliefs?

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            ivanka trump has the same rights as itshak despite having no such iron age geneaology, because of zionism’s colonial nature.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Good point, John,

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            Ivanka Trump asked us, “Can I join your people?” and we said “under these conditions,” and then she learned our language, learned our traditions and books, met our conditions and requirements, and was formally initiated into our nation in the presence of the same Court of Law (Bet Din) that has always admitted new people to the Jewish nation since the time before we were forced out of our homeland. Call it what you will, that’s the opposite of colonization.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            If only the Romans and proto-Muslims had done the same!

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            People join nations they weren’t born into; this isn’t unique to Am Yisrael. What gives white Europeans the right to decide how the nations they colonize choose to admit new members? If the Seneca wish to admit a new person to their nation they have that right, as do we Jews/Hebrews, even though I’d personally rather Ivanka Trump not be one of us.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            were i to ‘join’ the seneca nation, that would give me a claim to indigeneity? were i to convert to judaism, that certainly gives me the right to move into a palestinian home and call the army when they resist.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            You’re neither Jewish nor Palestinian, are you? If you want to fight colonialism, there are places that are actually colonized by Europeans where your efforts would be more just. Europeans have already done enough to the Jewish people, you have already colonized us enough.

            Palestinian rights are a noble cause to take up; they deserve to live peacefully and freely in their home no matter whether they have a legimate claim to descent from the indigenous people of Eretz Yisrael or not. But by calling Itshak Swiss you are participating in the same system of oppression you have inflicted upon us for generations. Stop.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            i fail to see how zionism frees palestinians from israeli oppression.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            I wouldn’t know; I’m not a Zionist. But you are definitely an antisemite.

            Reply to Comment
          • Some-one.

            Actually the real anti-Semites, they hardly exist anymore, oppressed Jews by insisting that they were not indigenous to Europe, the clue to that would be in the term itself- to say that Jews are not indigenous to Europe like you are doing is classical anti-Semitism.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            I didn’t bother to expand your splaining garbage complete with “Actually,…”.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            More specifically, antisemitism, like other forms of xenophobia and racism, is based on the idea that Jews *have* to be indigenous to Europe in order to be considered full members of society. As opposed to anti-Judaism, which is against Judaism as a religion, antisemitism is against the idea that a separate Jewish nation can exist within nation-states.

            That Jews see ourselves as a nation has been true since antiquity, and remains true for most of us to this day. This presented a problem for the nation-states that arose in the context of the French Revolution. Previously tied together by allegiance to monarchs, what would tie democracies together? Enlightenment thinkers believed only a common identification as “French,” “German,” etc. would keep people loyal to their countries and engaged in civic life.

            This brought about what became known as the “Jewish Question”: how can Jews exist in Europe without becoming a fifth column? Without having dual loyalty? One answer was what the Nazis came up with: extermination. Another was held by the French and later the Soviet Union: cultural assimilation. Jews would have to give up our Jewish identities in order to participate in society, perhaps keeping some hollowed-out version of it. Both of these are forms of antisemitism. One is literal genocide; the other is, according to the person who coined the word “genocide,” cultural genocide.

            It never occurred to any of these people that multiple nations could live together in the same society or that our fates were intertwined, but this is the only way forward. Jews will never stop seeing ourselves as a nation, and treating us a though we are not a nation is insulting and, in many ways, perpetuating an ongoing cultural genocide. Simply pretending that we have no history or national culture is not helpful, and is the other side of the “Jews must be exterminated for their outsider status” coin.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            Here you use the word “convert”, a European word imposed upon our process of admitting new people to our nation, whereas we have always used the word “hitgayer”, which refers to coming to live among the Jewish people. We don’t speak of converts; we speak of gerim, foreigners, who we welcome into our homes and allow to fully join our people if they learn our language, our religion, our traditions, etc.. Similarly we do not speak of conversion but about gerut or giyur.

            Hence by putting ‘join’ in quotes but then talking about conversion, you imply that Jews are really a religion and not a nation. In fact, the very words we use to speak of conversion in our own language are much closer to ‘join’ than they are to conversion. People don’t stand up in a synagogue and announce “I’m saved,” they are naturalized into our community through a long process that requires coming to understand our traditions in a way that many people born Jewish take for granted.

            What is more colonialist than imposing your own conceptual framework upon our culture?

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            You’re the person fetishizing geneology— a nation isn’t blood, it’s culture, traditions, society, community. People become Arabized whether or not they have Arabian ancestry; people are admitted into other nations without descent from that nation. A nation is a sociopolitical entity, and Am Yisrael has existed continuously since antiquity, occasionally accepting new people. Having a spurious claim to descent from Am Yisrael doesn’t make someone a Jew/Hebrew/Israelite any more than Elizabeth Warren is Native American. Warren belongs to the colonizing people; actual members of the nation are the colonized people, regardless of blood or geneology.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “I wouldn’t know; I’m not a Zionist. But you are definitely an antisemite.”

            Oh please. What a cheap shot. You show scant awareness of the smug racism of this person ‘Itshak’ that John was replying to. And if you’re not a “Zionist,” you sure sound like someone promting “Zionism” and someone not much bothered by Itshak’s implicit Kahanism for that matter.

            Keiner Nit perhaps I misunderstand you but you seem to me to talk around a lot of things but not at them and ignore the history and context of the conflict and occupation. And make things far too cut and dried.

            “…a nation isn’t blood, it’s culture, traditions, society, community…”

            All very nice-sounding but in practice the whole thing, in the context of the conflict and the occupation and the nation state law has become racist and peculiarly blood-obsessed.

            “In Israel the rabbinate has played an increasingly powerful role in transforming nationality into a quasi-racial definition, reserved only for a group that meets clear biological requirements (conversion processes are so difficult and humiliating that they are de facto a politics whose purpose is to dissuade non-Jews from joining the Jewish people, thus reinforcing the biological view that a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother). It is not by chance that religious people in Israel are spearheading racist views. Rabbis on the public payroll call for not employing Arabs and for boycotting shops that do so; these rabbis also call on the population not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. They frequently cite the Torah to justify the idea that that Jewish and non-Jewish lives are of unequal value. In fact, the view that Jews and non-Jews are both equally the children of God would be, for many religious Jews, sacrilege, a profanation of Judaism. The Lehava organization, that which battles against interfaith marriages and has set for itself the goal of maintaining the racial purity of Jews has been, as revealed in Haaretz in 2011, indirectly financed by the State of Israel.” – Eva Illouz
            https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-rethinking-the-banality-of-evil-theory-1.5420900

            See also:

            Haaretz Editorial
            DNA Testing to ‘Prove’ Jewishness Is Spine-chilling
            Haaretz Editorial
            Sep 01, 2019

            As regards the nit you pick with “miscengenation,” below, Itshak Gordine has been on this site an open defender of Lehava and a declared enemy of marriage between Arabs and Jews, as something “forbidden” for Jews. You seem to pick around the edges of things here without looking at the main thing staring one in the face. I can’t help saying that “Keiner Nit” seems like an ironic name in this sense.

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            Joining the Jewish people is a very serious commitment, one that must be done sincerely and with full knowledge of the burden one is taking on – not only of the commandments but of antisemitism, of our long and horrible history of persecution that will continue to exist long after Madinat Yisrael has disappeared. This is why we reject people twice before letting them convert, not because we want to humiliate them. That anyone would consider joining the Jewish people to gain access to Israeli society is one of many reasons why I am not a Zionist. It’s not fair or just to ask this of anyone.

            As for miscegenation, there is a difference between asking that people convert to Judaism before marrying and acting as though “mixed-race marriages” negate a person’s Jewishness entirely. It is this latter view that “John” is arguing; that is a truly racist argument and a true argument against miscegenation. As though Ivanka Trump and her children aren’t Jewish because Ivanka joined the Jewish people from the outside. That’s an argument based in racism, blood, genealogy, etc..

            And for the record, I can’t stand Ivanka Trump. Speaking of which, I’m well aware of this Itshak person’s racism; that Itshak is a terrible person doesn’t make them stop being a member of our people, any more than it makes Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner stop being a member of our people.

            What have I argued that is “Zionist”? Eretz Yisrael is where Jewish people originated; we have the right to return there, but so do Palestinians expelled during the Nakba. I support a one-state solution, a State of All Citizens for all the people who call it home. Perhaps you think it’s “Zionist” for me to refuse to negate Jewish history, for me to refuse to allow people to call Jews “Swiss” and negate their Jewishness entirely? I have self-respect, and you should too.

            And as for Keiner Nit, believe it or not, I love the Jewish Diaspora and want to see it continue to prosper, which is one of the things that makes me not a Zionist. This is why my assumed name, “No-one Not”, is so distinctively Yiddish.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The argument is getting so convoluted and confused now as to be unworkable, and unprofitable to disentangle, with rabbit holes down which I am not enticed and eccentric reasons for “why I am not a Zionist.”
            By the way, the “Swiss” thing is mockery, basically, that grows out of this Itshak’s fondness for telling everyone that “minorities” and “foreigners” aka Arabs need to behave themselves, most deferentially, and trying to pass over on us that it’s no different at all than the Switzerland he came out of before gloriously rising to Homeland Overlord and Sire of Third Temple Levy-ite priests in-the-waiting. Really.

            Except I’ll pull out this and isolate it:

            ‘as though “mixed-race marriages” negate a person’s Jewishness entirely. It is this latter view that “John” is arguing’

            I honestly don’t read John as arguing anything like that or really arguing anything that formal at all. I read him as, by way of a brief riposte, getting at the fact that Ivanka, a person that no one would hold up as really much connected to Judaism except in a superficial and “career-move” kind of way, has now, by virtue of this career move of hers, the automatic Israeli-accorded right to “return,” immigrate to Israel whenever and however she wants and to settle the West Bank at will, while a Palestinian whose great, great grandparents and great grandparents and grandparents live in the West Bank has no such Israeli-accorded right. And it is the Israeli Jewish authorities who do all the according. And it is entirely ethnically/religiously based. And John was getting at the injustice of that. And I rather see you as turning that into a muddled and distracting contentiousness about “Zionism” and anti-Semitism all the while studiously ignoring the overarching context of Itshak’s kahanistic overlordism.

            Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          The only foreigners in the land of Israel are all who have profited from the martyrdom of the Jewish people to settle there unduly. Fortunately, the Jewish people are back and this land is returning to its former splendor.
          As for the Arab minority, it constitutes the 20% of the population and the 60% of the prison population. This minority is plagued by violence and bloodshed.

          Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            Jews constituted the majority of the concentration camp population in Europe during the Shoah; does that say something negative about Jews or about Europe?

            Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Itshak: So, like, do you actually personally know any Palestinians, like the ones that make up 20% of Israel’s citizens?

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          Absolutely. They are integrated into the Israeli economy, and we see them every day at the post office, in the shops, in the cafes, in the hospital.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            A non-answer. “We see them every day at the post office, in the shops, in the cafes, in the hospital” is not to personally know someone. And note the “we” and “them” language. Did I say somewhere that Itshak uses euphemisms and hints around the edges? Hmmm. I said this somewhere…..
            So, “we see them every day at the post office, in the shops, in the cafes, in the hospital” but at the same time “they want to kill us, they want to wipe us out, and it is up to each and every Jew to rise up” against “them.” So every day in the shops, the cafes, the hospital, at his oculist, poor Itshak has a hair-raising experience with “them.” Or maybe not. Maybe it’s complete nonsense meant to preserve the colonial overlord power relations? You think?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Itshak: SO if they’re integrated into the Israeli economy, and if you know Palestinians personally, how on earth can you say they want to kill you and wipe you out? Does that make any sense?

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            We listen to the speeches of their leaders and the terrorist actions of some of them. If you lived in Israel you would understand very quickly ..

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            First of all, you don’t ever listen to their leaders in either the West Bank or Israel, especially when they try to make peace, and you do your best to silence, imprison or kill the peacemakers and the talented leaders among them.

            Secondly, one of “their leaders” in Israel (where you don’t even live, Halevy) if not their main one is Ayman Odeh, and I’m going to fall of my chair here if you come back and tell me Odeh is out to destroy you and if you tell me you actually listen to him in the first place. Such brazen prevarications you peddle!

            What you actually listen to, day in day out, is agitprop. Courtesy of Netanyahu and your rabbis and the whole right wing spectrum in between. You cannot fool us.

            Finally, I can turn what you say right around and give the Palestinians a voice:

            “We listen to the speeches of the Israelis’ leaders and the terrorist actions of some of them. If you lived in the occupied West Bank you would understand very quickly …”

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            Another avalanche of empty words from a person who does not live in Israel.. Part of the party Arab list is anti-Zionist and refused to support any of the candidates for the post of prime minister. “Palestinian” society is plagued by violence and bloodshed. It seems that it has difficulties to adapt to the land of Israel. Our great sages had foreseen it centuries ago.
            To conclude, I live in Judea and Samaria, one of the provinces of the State of Israel which was the territory of the tribe of Judah, as the name suggests. Finally, it must be remembered that this territory was annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom in 1951, and that only Great Britain and Pakistan had recognized this annexation. There has never been in History any Arab State of “Palestine”

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your reply is evidence of the striking, absolutely impervious brainwashed cult to which you have given yourself to. Really anyone reading this understands how no rational engagement or conversation is to be had and outside forceful intervention is the only possible humane solution.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I don’t get it, Halevy. Why aren’t you a card-carrying member of Otzma? You’re a declared Kahanist making racist, kahanist, judepsupremacist statements all the time. You’re a steady apologist for the likes of Gopstein, Ben-Ari and Marzel. Because they got zero seats suddenly you don’t know these people? What’s up with that? After all Natasha Roth is right and these elections normalized kahanism and you are feeling your oats here and coming out of the closet completely as a kahanist. But you are not a member of these losers? You mean you are not on the party honor roll and just an informal cheerleader for Benzti & Baruch?

        On the other hand, look at the irony, Halevy. You’re always insisting Israel is a democracy and Israelis decide. So why is it that you can’t accept that the electorate rejected Otzma and rejected Kahane? And why can’t you accept Ayman Odeh as opposition leader? I thought you were all for democracy and Israelis deciding things? What’s up with that?

        And when are you going to answer Bruce Gould’s question on this page–seems to me it is most relevant.

        When may we expect your replies?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I correct myself, Itshak. You are not “a declared Kahanist.” That is wrong. In my view you are a hinter around the edges at Kahanism, trying to stay just this side of respectability and employing Orwellian euphemisms and the tactics Roth describes in the service of that aim.

          You have this uncanny knack for making the author’s point for the author.
          So the author talks about the fact “that Otzma Yehudit didn’t even need to run this time for Kahanist rhetoric and tactics to play a role” and Itshak nicely obliges with a blast of kahanist rhetoric while swearing he doesn’t have an Otzma membership card (but elsewhere having regaled us with how those guys are just good folks protecting defenseless Jewish girls from defilement by baaad Arab kidnappers).

          Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordine

      Another avalanche of words and preconceived ideas. I have always been a member of Likud. I do, however, have sympathy for those who struggle against assimilation and mixed marriages.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        segregationist, antimiscegenationist – racist.

        Reply to Comment
        • Keiner Nit

          Strange words from someone who would go on to literally use Jewish “miscegenation” as an argument for denying our right to return to our homeland. Whereas the person you’re responding to absolutely was not making an argument against miscegenation; they were talking about something different.

          Reply to Comment
          • john

            bullshit

            Reply to Comment
          • Keiner Nit

            A person of few words, all of them facile and quickly dismantled until you’re left only with obscenities.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            yes, it’s easy to dismantle strawmen in service of calling strangers antisemitic. & of course i have only myself to blame for indulging your obviously bad faith questions in the first place.

            Reply to Comment
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