The Israeli right-wing party Jewish Home merged on Wednesday with a small extremist party led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, all but guaranteeing Knesset seats for the extremists.
Kahane’s party was banned from running in Israeli elections in 1988 for racism, then banned entirely in 1994 under anti-terrorism laws. Two Kahanist groups, Kahane Chai and Kach, are currently designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State.
According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised top positions in the next government to Jewish Home leaders if they merged with the small extremist party Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power,” which is led by three prominent Kahanists.
Parties must get at least 3.25% of all votes to gain entry into the Knesset. Had the two parties run separately, they likely would have split votes and risked falling under the electoral threshold and not making it into parliament at all, weakening options for Netanyahu to forge a coalition on the right.
The prime minister cancelled a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in order to usher through the deal, according to the Times of Israel.
One Otzma Yehudit leader, Baruch Marzel, was the secretary of Kahane’s party Kach in 1984, according to the Times of Israel. Another, Michael Ben-Ari, has been denied entry to the U.S. due to his ties to Kahanist groups, the Times of Israel reported.
The Jerusalem Post reported that multiple Jewish Home members had threatened to quit the party list if the merger went through.
Meanwhile, the leader of Meretz, an Israeli left-wing party, said that they would seek to get Otzma Yehudit disqualified, according to Haaretz..
Netanyahu Merger Will Bring Kahanists Into Knesset
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.