Bibi Plays the Racism Card to Win, But We All Lose

If I were to detail some core beliefs and positions of my (and frankly, much of the Jewish community’s) Zionist ideology, I would share the following:

  • Israel has a legitimate right to exist — and should.
  • She is the only democracy in the Middle East and the United States’ most important ally in the region.
  • Racism on any side has no place in Israel, but especially when it comes from its Prime Minister.
  • A negotiated two-state solution is the clearest path to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Unilateral measures are counterproductive and only direct talks between the parties can lead to a just and lasting peace.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s act of bringing Otzma Yehudit into his tent, setting the stage for them to be a legitimate coalition member subsequent to the elections, undermines each one of these positions—and treacherously has the potential to put all chances of peace on ice for years, or worse, maybe, decades to come.

Otzma Yehudit, or better, the Jewish Power Party in Israel, is a political party fueled by zealotry and hate. Though this party is considered to be Religious Zionist, the nuance is that it is also an heir-apparent to the extremist ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his followers/party. This party is ultra-nationalist, anti-Arab, and far-right—perhaps a parallel to the alt-right we see here in the United States. Otzma Yehudit advocates for the cancelation of the Oslo accords and imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. And worse, Otzma Yehudit seeks both the annexation of the West Bank and complete Israeli rule between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—or better put, a “one-state solution.”

Why is this relevant? Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pushing for this party to come together with other right-wing parties (Bayit Yehudi and National Union), so that, if all goes according to his plan, such a technical bloc can lead to his subsequent reelection.

Israel’s electoral system is based on what many refer to as nation-wide proportional representation. Members of Knesset are not elected directly, but only as part of rosters of specific lists which participate in the general election. The number of seats which every list receives in the Knesset is proportionate to the number of voters who voted for it (that list and that party).

To the American voter, this is a confusing model. But effectively, it means that if “your” party can get enough votes (3.25% of the total), you will have a seat (or multiple seats) at the proverbial table. This sometimes leads to strange bedfellows, collaborating and compromising so they can amass the votes they need in order to add at least one name to the collective Knesset.

Even if this party becomes but a small voice as part of a larger collective, it is a voice that has no place in the Israeli electorate. It is a voice that empowers and foments hate. And it is a voice that gives further weight to those who wish to seek Israel’s end.

We’ve seen Prime Minister Netanyahu try this before, that is, appealing to right-wing extremists in 2015 by making promises that, if re-elected, he wouldn’t allow the creation of a Palestinian state. But this move elevates the promulgation of hate to a whole new level.

Already many voices (including my own Senator, Amy Klobuchar) have come out to condemn Prime Minister Netanyahu’s move, but I find it ironic that this is the news cycle during the week of Parashat Vayakhel—a Torah portion predicated on Moses’ convoking and convening the community (kahal) of Israel. They were tasked with building something together, the Tabernacle.

Bringing Otzma Yehudit into the fold does the exact opposite. Doing so does not erect a proverbial tabernacle. It desecrates all that we hold dear in a vision not only for Israel, but how we should act as Jews and how we should act as human beings.

I know my voice alone will not make a difference—but hopefully those who identify like I do as part of the Pro-Israel community will soon recognize that this is not only bad for Israel, but also bad for the Jewish people.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi Olitzky is a senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He graduated from the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003 where he was awarded a BA in Sociology and a BA in Talmud and Rabbinics. Rabbi Olitzky went on to receive an MA in Midrash in October 2007 and his ordination as a rabbi from JTS in May 2008.
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