Michael Ben Ari is an Israeli politician and former member of the Knesset. Born to Mizrahi Jewish parents from Iran and Afghanistan, he co-established the Otzma LeYisrael (Strength for Israel) party, now known as Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) which is running for the 9 April 2019 Israel General Election.
Otzma Yehudit is the ideological descendant of the outlawed Kach party, a radical Orthodox Jewish political party founded by rabbi Meir Kahane. Previously a member of the Kach party, Ben Ari is a vocal supporter of Kahane, who is famous for inspiring extremist settler Baruch Goldstein to carry out the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron in the occupied West Bank, killing 29 Palestinian worshippers and injured 150 more.
Kahane’s teachings advocate for expelling Palestinians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and changing the status quo on Jerusalem’s Al-Asqa Mosque compound, both of which Otzma Yehudit also advocates.
In May 2018, Ben Ari gave a speech in which he said: “The Arabs of Haifa aren’t different in any way from the Arabs of Gaza … They’re here, enemies from within.”
Less than a month before the election, Michael Ben Ari was banned from standing in the election on the grounds of racial incitement. But although he is now out of the race, Otzma Yehudit is not out of the picture, and his second-in-command, Itamar Ben Gvir, a settler who was also previously active in the Kach party, can still sit in the Knesset.
The Union of Right-Wing Parties
Otzma Yehudit is not the only far right party running in the April election. It’s one of three parties running as part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, an alliance formed as part of a deal orchestrated by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, fearing an increasingly emboldened centre-left, sought to bolster the right-wing bloc in return for support if he is re-elected and tasked with forming a government.
The three parties, Jewish Power, Jewish Home and the National Union, support overtly religious-Zionist ideas. They believe in the creation of a greater Israel, meaning no Palestinian state. Several of their prominent members are also closely tied to the settlement movement and are in favour of expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of parts or all of the territory.
Bezalel Smotrich heads the National Union faction. He grew up in and still lives in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and is closely linked with some of the West Bank’s most extreme settlers, allegedly inciting violence against Palestinians during an Israeli crackdown on the territory in December 2018.
The National Union is itself an alliance of fringe right-wing factions, including Tkuma, Moledet and Hatikva. These parties all see themselves as religious-Zionist and openly advocate for the annexation of all or parts of the occupied West Bank, drawing most of their support from Israel’s illegal settlers living there.
The National Union faction merged with the Jewish Home party in return for Smotrich’s placement as number two on the party’s Knesset list. Jewish Home is now headed by Rafi Peretz, but has always been known for its controversial leaders, Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
In 2019, the two established the New Right party and left Jewish Home behind. The New Right, however, stands for virtually the same things when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They advocate increased settlement activity in the occupied territories, the annexation of the West Bank and deadly action against Gaza.
Shaked has served as a member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home party since 2013 and as Minister of Justice since 2015. She has promised to clamp down on the independence of the judiciary and has often accused Netanyahu of leaning too far to the left. Her latest New Right party parody campaign ad sparked controversy, in which she posed as a model spraying herself with a perfume called “Fascism.”
(Video editing by Abdelrahman Said)