AP NEWS

Netanyahu strikes election deal with far-right parties

February 20, 2019
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis, left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference after their meeting in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, Pool)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reached a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hard-line bloc ahead of April elections.

Netanyahu’s Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the Jewish Power party.

Jewish Power is comprised of hard-line religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the banned Kahanist movement, which dreamed of turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and advocated forced removal of its Palestinians.

Recent polls project Likud winning about 30 of Parliament’s 120 seats, while Jewish Home and Jewish Power may not have enough support to enter Parliament on their own. Together, the two small parties would likely cross the electoral threshold and capture several parliamentary seats.

The Jewish Home party sealed the deal in a committee vote on Wednesday, a day before parties running the April 9 parliamentary election must finalize their lineups.

Among the prominent figures in the joint Jewish Home-Jewish Power list are Bezalel Smotrich, a self-avowed “proud homophobe,” Itamar Ben Gvir, an attorney who has made a career defending radical Israeli settlers implicated in West Bank violence, and Benzi Gopstein, leader of an extremist anti-assimilation group whose Twitter handle translates to “Kahane was right.”

The late American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League is considered a terrorist organization by the FBI.

Ben Gvir, a member of Jewish Power, said that his faction “put personal honor aside” to prevent Netanyahu’s main election rival from forming a government.

Netanyahu’s gambit drew criticism from opposition politicians. Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay called the move “bankruptcy” of the Likud party’s values.

Benny Gantz, a former army chief who is Netanyahu’s main challenger, criticized the prime minister’s courting of extremists. His Israeli Resilience party said: “Netanyahu lost touch with his Zionism and with his dignity.”

Netanyahu’s move to unite right-wing nationalist parties ahead of Thursday’s party list deadline was one of several last-minute negotiations across the spectrum to form broader blocs.

Gantz and Yair Lapid, a leading opposition politician and former finance minister, also spent much of Wednesday hashing out a possible centrist union.