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Netanyahu demands 2nd far-right party quit Israel election

A man casts his vote during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]
A man casts his vote during the Israeli general elections in Tel Aviv on 9 April 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked ultra-right-wing party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) to drop out of Israel’s upcoming general election, the second such demand in less than a week.

Netanyahu’s aides have reportedly met with representatives of Otzma Yehudit multiple times in the past two weeks, calling on the party to drop out of the election race so as not to waste right-wing votes.

Otzma is not expected to cross the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to win seats in the Knesset, meaning that any votes cast for the party on 17 September will be lost. Faced with extremely close polling figures which could see Netanyahu’s re-election bid falter, the prime minister has attempted to cannibalise smaller right-wing parties in order to boost his Likud party’s prospects.

In return, Netanyahu allegedly promised Otzma Yehudit that, in Israel’s next election, he would lower the 3.25 per cent threshold to make it easier for the party to enter the Knesset.

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Otzma Yehudit leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, has reportedly also demanded that Likud’s West Bank branch work more closely with his party. In addition, Ben Gvir demanded that Yamina – an amalgamation of right-wing, religious-Zionist parties led by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – stop its demands for Otzma to fold.

The party has, however, hit back at Likud for what it called electoral spin, saying that “they know that we won’t buy [the deal], so they’re making offers through the newspaper, which didn’t even ask for a reaction.”

“Whoever thinks we will quit wants a government with [Blue and White number two Yair] Lapid. The only way Netanyahu will establish a right-wing government is with our four seats in the Knesset. We are missing a few thousand seats. Whoever wants to strengthen the Right should vote for Otzma Yehudit.”

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This is the second time in less than a week that Netanyahu has demanded a small right-wing party quit its election campaign, previously leaning on Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin to bow out of the race.

On Thursday, Netanyahu and Feiglin held a joint press conference to announce that they had reached a deal which would see Zehut end its election bid in return for Feiglin receiving a ministerial portfolio in any future Netanyahu government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to cast his vote during Israel's parliamentary elections at Paula Ben Gurion School in Jerusalem, on 9 April 2019. [Haim Zach / GPO / Handout - Anadolu Agency]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to cast his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem on 9 April 2019 [Haim Zach/GPO/ Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Netanyahu also agreed to carry out some of Zehut’s signature policy promises, including steps towards the legalisation of medical cannabis use in Israel and tax reform for small businesses.

The pair did not, however, reveal whether Likud would adopt Zehut’s vehement anti-Palestinian policies, which have seen the party advocate for a one-state solution in which the whole of historic Palestine will be named Israel and incentivisation programmes to encourage Palestinians in the occupied territories to emigrate.

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Netanyahu has repeatedly sought to use Otzma Yehudit for his own electoral benefit, plucking the party from virtual obscurity in the run up to Israel’s April election in a bid to sure-up the right-wing bloc.

At the time, Netanyahu orchestrated a deal to bring Otzma into the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP, Yamina’s forerunner), to ensure that its right-wing factions would pass the minimum threshold. Netanyahu agreed to set aside two cabinet posts for URWP in return for it taking the Otzma under its wing.

The deal prompted outrage in Israel and abroad given Otzma Yehudit’s extreme ideology, which has seen the party call for the expulsion of Palestinians to their “countries of origin”. The party’s members are self-confessed followers of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s. Kahane’s ideology also inspired Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, which left 29 Muslim worshippers dead and scores wounded.

As such repeated attempts have been made to bar Otzma from contesting Israeli elections, with the Supreme Court banning party leader Michael Ben Ari and prominent members Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel from participation.

Itamar Ben Gvir – who is known to have a photo of Baruch Goldstein in his home and has a history of providing legal representation to extremist Israeli settlers accused of arson attacks against Palestinians – was cleared to run due to insufficient evidence.

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