In an unprecedented move for the Jewish Community of Louisville, its Board of Directors has “condemned” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outreach to an openly racist political party.
The board took the historic step by through a resolution it adopted Monday by a unanimous vote.
“We have never condemned an Israeli prime minister,” said Matt Goldberg, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which recommended the resolution. “We have issued critical statements of the Israeli government, but we have never condemned an Israeli prime minister by name, and we have certainly never done it with a board resolution.”
Netanyahu, who is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from the centrist Blue and White coalition in the April 9 national election, has brokered a political marriage between the right wing Jewish Home Party and the extremist Otzma Yehudit, among whose leaders are disciples of the late anti-Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane.
The two parties, both of which are to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud, will run together in the election and could join the government if Netanyahu wins.
“The teachings of Meir Kahane and leaders of Otzma Yehudit are inconsistent with Jewish values and precepts,” the JCL resolution says. “Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to encourage an electoral relationship with the inherently racist Otzma Yehudit party is to be condemned [and] Otzma Yehudit should be forbidden to be seated in the Israeli Knesset.”
It further states that Otzma Yehudit should be “boycotted” in Israel and the United States.
The resolution reaffirms the JCL’s support for a two-state solution – one Jewish, one Palestinian – living side by side.
It also states that all minorities living in Israel should have the same rights as Jewish citizens.
That last point apparently refers to a March 10 statement by Netanyahu on social media that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens.”
The JCL joins a long list of Jewish organizations that have come out against Netanyahu’s arranged marriage between Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit. Among them are the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
AIPAC’s opposition is especially notable since it rarely takes a contrarian position to Israel, and Netanyahu is slated to speak at its annual policy conference later this month. Benny Gantz, a leader of Blue and White, will also speak.
Otzma Yehudit, which is Hebrew for “Jewish Power,” stands for a greater Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It calls for the annexation of the West Bank and the resettlement of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs in Arab countries. It also wants to restore Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and cancel the Oslo Accords.
Party head Michael Ben-Ari has called Kahane his rabbi and his teacher. Another party leader, Baruch Marzel, one time a Kahane aide, holds a party every year at the grave of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs.
Rabbi David Ariel-Joel of The Temple, who previously led the Reform Movement in Israel, has called Otzma Yehudit “a true danger to Israel’s democracy, and to Israeli society.”
Nevertheless, he said they do have influence in Israel, noting they have been elected to the Knesset twice before.
Thirty-eight Religious Zionist American rabbis have signed a petition condemning the merger.
Conversely, The National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue organization, defended Netanyahu’s deal, but 22 NCYI synagogues quickly declared that the organization was not speaking for them and called upon leadership to “cease making all political pronouncements.”
NCYI President Farley Weiss later clarified the statement, saying it did not speak for individual synagogues.
(JTA contributed to this story.)