Comment: Whether or not he’s re-elected, the damage is done. Netanyahu has paved the way for the most maniacal racists in Israel’s history, writes David Sheen.Tags:Israel, racism, Netanyahu, Kahane, Likud, Friedman, Alex Odeh
As Israel heads towards its third national election in less than a year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up to his neck in legal woes.
In November, he was indicted for fraud, bribery and breach of trust over three separate corruption scandals. He is suspected of trading favours with billionaires, and of manipulating multiple media companies to provide him and his family with favourable coverage.
As serious as the allegations against him are, they are but a small fraction of the high crimes Netanyahu deserves to be tried for.
Since he returned to the prime minister’s office a decade ago, Netanyahu has throttled the Gaza Strip and bombed it to ruins, snuffing out the lives of hundreds of children. He has encouraged Jews to keep colonising the West Bank, stamping out the possibility of any independent Palestinian state there. And he has encoded into law the subordinate status of non-Jews, eliminating the possibility that Arabs and others could be equal citizens in the one state that’s left.
And yet, beyond all the corruption crimes he’s been charged with, and in addition to all the war crimes he deserves to be charged with, there is another abhorrent set of misdeeds he is yet to answer for.
Stretching back to almost a quarter or a century ago, when he first entered the prime minister’s office, and up to this year, as his political career finally comes to its conclusion, Netanyahu has paved the way for the political ascendancy of the Kahanists, the most maniacal racists in the history of the state of Israel.
Before the Trump era, Netanyahu needed to maintain at least one degree of separation from the Kahanists
Kahanists are the followers of Meir Kahane, a now-deceased American-born rabbi who immigrated to Israel and irrevocably altered its political culture. Before Kahane arrived on the scene in the 1970s, Israel had already driven out hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians, in 1948 and in 1967.
But those shameful acts were committed under the fog of war, and Israeli leaders did not openly boast about them. Kahane would break this taboo by unapologetically advocating that the state and all territories it occupies be completely ethnically cleansed of non-Jews.
In 1984, when Kahane entered the Knesset, even hawkish lawmakers were mostly embarrassed by his unabashed bigotry. When he proposed bills stripping non-Jews of their civil rights, assigning them to slave labour, and forbidding them from having sexual relationships with Jews, even MPs from Netanyahu’s nationalist Likud party compared Kahane’s proposals to the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany. Kahane would only serve a single term in the Knesset before it expelled him for his unrepentant racism.
Just as Kahane left the Knesset in 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the parliament for the first time, and appointed Deputy Foreign Minister. Within months, he made clear that he shared at least some of Kahane’s objectives, calling to take advantage of the Tiananmen Square massacre to commit another ethnic cleansing close to home.
“Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of the demonstrations in China, when the world’s attention was focused on what was happening in that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the Territories,” Netanyahu lamented. “However, to my regret, they did not support that policy that I proposed, and which I still propose should be implemented.”
In time, Netanyahu was able to work his way into the prime minister’s office, twice: from 1996 to 1999, and from 2009 to the present day. But both times, he took over the reins of power from a centrist government that had been negotiating peace with the Palestinians.
And both times, when he entered office, the US presidents were Democrats – first Bill Clinton, and then Barack Obama. Constrained by these factors, Netanyahu was initially unable to make good on all his long-term supremacist goals. But that would only hold true until Donald Trump took over the White House in 2017.
Under Trump’s tenure, the US has dropped any pretense of objectivity and has endorsed every maximalist Israeli demand. In the last three years, with Washington’s Palestine policies subcontracted to Trump’s Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the US has ended its opposition to Israeli settlements, approved Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and recognised Israel’s claim to East Jerusalem.
Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, had no prior experience as a diplomat, and was seemingly chosen for the post because he is a closet Kahanist; he and Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner have funneled money to Kommemiut, a Kahanist front group.
Before the Trump era, Netanyahu needed to maintain at least one degree of separation from the Kahanists. When he was first elected prime minister in 1996, he immediately appointed former followers of Kahane to his government, but only those who had rebranded themselves: Tzahi HaNegbi and Avigdor Lieberman.
Netanyahu had normalised the country’s biggest racists
During Netanyahu’s second run as PM, his government returned to the Knesset Kahane’s successor, anti-miscegenation street gang leader Bentzi Gopstein, to argue there in favour of racial separation.
Netanyahu then granted the two Likud lawmakers that hosted Gopstein – Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon – the top two diplomacy postings he once held: Deputy Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United Nations, respectively.
But with an American quasi-Kahanist now directing US policy, there is no longer a need for Netanyahu to distance himself from Israel’s full-fledged Kahanists, just for appearance’s sake.
When the first post-Obama elections were held here in April, Netanyahu dropped his moderate mask altogether. He actively courted the Kahanist vote, encouraging an only slightly less racist political party, the Jewish Home, to unite with the Kahanists and ensure that they get into the Knesset, and into the next Netanyahu government.
He would fail to form a coalition, sending the country into a second, and then a third round of elections, but the damage was done: Netanyahu had normalised the country’s biggest racists.
Embarrassed by the Likud-Kahanist compact, some political pundits are arguing that Netanyahu has only forged this blue-brown alliance against his will, because the corruption charges against him have driven him to desperation.
Netanyahu may be getting increasingly desperate, but his collusion with the Kahanists is based on their mutual desire to displace Palestinians, and on sharing the same billionaire family as top funders. And as we were reminded last week, Netanyahu has been carrying water for the Kahanists for a long, long time – over two decades, at least.
His collusion with the Kahanists is based on their mutual desire to displace Palestinians, and on sharing the same billionaire family as top funders
In 1985, while Netanyahu was Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and Kahane served in the Knesset, the latter dispatched his henchmen to the US to wage war on American soil.
According to the FBI, Kahane’s minions assassinated Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh at the Los Angeles-area offices of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he served as regional director. When the alleged assassins fled the country and reestablished themselves in the West Bank, the FBI called on Israel to cooperate with its investigation into the Odeh murder.
But when asked in 1998 to provide answers about the murder suspects, then-Prime Minister Netanyahu protected the Kahanist accused killers, pretending as if he had no idea where they were.
These were not only false statements; Netanyahu’s denials were especially offensive, as they flew in the face of easily observable facts. One of the men, Baruch Ben Yosef, could be considered Israel’s number one Jewish terror suspect; he has been jailed under administrative detention longer than any other Jew in the history of the state.
Moreover, just months after Netanyahu’s bogus denial, the suspect Ben Yosef actually filed suit against Netanyahu – and the case went all the way up to Israel’s Supreme Court.
While the American government still paid lip service to pursuing peace and justice, Netanyahu deceived them in a thousand and one ways, allowing Israeli settlers to colonise Palestinian land without consequence, and allowing Israeli racists to take Palestinian lives without fear.
Now that the US ambassador is a pastel patron of Kahanism, Netanyahu no longer has to hide his own affinity for the movement and its new leader, Itamar Ben Gvir – Baruch Ben Yosef’s protege.
However Israel’s parliamentary stalemate is solved, it’s time to acknowledge Netanyahu’s legacy as arch-racist Rabbi Meir Kahane’s political reciprocal, the benefactor who made Israeli racists proud again.
David Sheen is an independent journalist originally from Toronto, Canada and now based in Israel.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of TEESRI JUNG ENGLISH, its editorial board or staff.