Otzma Yehudit's history of racism and provocation
Prime Minister Netanyahu worked hard to get Jewish Home-National Union to run with Otzma Yehudit in the upcoming elections. The party, which has its roots in Rabbi Meir Kahane's Kach Party, is merely the latest incarnation of hardline settler Baruch Marzel's Jewish National Front.
The agreement on the union, which will be broken off immediately after Election Day, follows days of hectic talks egged on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who put a lot of pressure on the sides and even made concessions of his own to make it happen. This merger could lead to the election of a party that shares the ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahane's radical and racist movement Kach.
The Otzma Yehudit Party is the latest incarnation of the Jewish National Front, a party that was established ahead of the 2006 elections, but its roots are in the Kach movement, which Kahane established in the 1970s.
Kach was a radical and racist right-wing movement with fascist characteristics; it called to expel Arab citizens from Israeli territory and promoted racist legislation against all non-Jews. It also believed in making Israel a Halachah state (ruled by Jewish law) and in annexing all parts of Greater Israel.
Kahane managed to get elected to the Knesset in 1984. In response, all of the parliament's factions came together to pass a law forbidding parties that incite to racism from running in the elections. The Kach Party and Kahane found themselves out of the Knesset, but different movements based on their ideology continued operating.
After the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, when Kach member Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, all factions of the movement were recognized as terror organizations and were consequently outlawed.
The Jewish National Front was founded by Baruch Marzel, who was a prominent activist in the Kach movement in his youth. In 2006, the party waged an extremist campaign, filled with incitement against party leaders both on the left and the right.
At one campaign rally, Marzel told supporters that "We need to carry out a targeted killing against (Ariel) Sharon and (Shimon) Peres at the polls. They're a danger to Israel."
The party released a flyer showing then-party leaders Ehud Olmert (Kadima), Amir Peretz (Labor) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) wearing keffiyehs, which were reminiscent of posters of Yitzhak Rabin wearing the Middle Eastern headdress before he was murdered.
The Jewish National Front also made no effort to hide its Kahanist roots, and its propaganda videos showed photos of Rabbi Kahane accompanied by the statement: "The path we've been on is the path we will always be on."
The provocations only got the party about 25,000 votes, which were not enough to send a representative to the Knesset.
This changed in the 2009 elections. The party was relaunched in 2008 under the name Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (Our Land of Israel) after Marzel struck an alliance with Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo. Shortly before the deadline for parties to submit their lists of candidates, Eretz Yisrael Shelanu joined the National Union Party, which was made up of several small right-wing parties. Placed in the fourth spot on the list was Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, a representative of the Kahanist party who, like Marzel, was a prominent activist in Kach. The National Union got four seats, and Ben-Ari became a member of Knesset.
The Kahanist MK's term was, as expected, filled with provocations and extremist comments. Shortly after he was elected, Border Police forces arrested Ben-Ari at the Yitzhar Junction after he clashed with security forces during an illegal protest. He climbed on a military vehicle to stop it from moving, while shouting at the troops who tried to remove him: "You are not allow to touch me."
In another incident, Ben-Ari was recorded at a rally calling left-wing NGOs "traitors that must be oppressed at any cost," "internal bacteria" and "enemies of Israel." In addition, he chose to have his office near the East Jerusalem refugee camp Shuafat, clashed with Arab MKs, participated in a memorial service for Meir Kahane and disseminated a poster with a photo of Supreme Court justices wearing keffiyehs.
After the end of the 18th Knesset's term, the National Union broke up and the Jewish National Front's members went on to establish Otzma LeYisrael (Power to Israel) along with MK Aryeh Eldad.
During the 2013 elections campaign, the new Kahanist party disseminated messages against the Arab population and ran under the slogan "There are no rights without duties." They put up signs across the country with the word "Loyalty" in Arabic, which led to complaints to the Central Election Committee that the signs were racist.
The party almost made it to the Knesset, but fell short of a few thousands of votes to pass the election threshold, which at the time was two percent of the vote and today is 3.25 percent.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, the party changed its name again to Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) and joined the Yachad Party, which was founded by former minister Eli Yishai after he left the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. Baruch Marzel was put on the fourth spot of the joint party's list of candidates. The party received over 125,000 voters, but fell short of the new election threshold.
Alongside Marzel and Ben-Ari, there is another prominent member of the party, who became its most well known figure in recent years—Itamar Ben-Gvir. Over the past few years, Ben-Gvir has been working as a lawyer representing Jewish terror suspects and Jews accused of "price tag" vandalism. Among his clients are the two main suspects in the murder of the Dawabsheh family in the Palestinian village of Duma.
Ben-Gvir is also a political activist who started his journey in the Kach movement. During the Oslo Accords, he took part in violent protests against Yitzhak Rabin. He was filmed waving the Mercedes emblem that was ripped from the prime minister's car and said: "We'll also get to Rabin himself." Rabin was murdered by a Jewish extremist at a Tel Aviv peace rally in 1995.
Since then Ben-Gvir has been involved in numerous protests, repeatedly arrested and prosecuted, and convicted several times of incitement to racism, support of a terror organization, rioting and hindering a police officer in the line of duty.
Over the past decade, he has served in different roles in Otzma Yehudit, including as an aide to MK Michael Ben-Ari and as the party spokesman.
Speaking of Netanyahu's involvement in the merger between the parties, Ben-Gvir said: "Netanyahu pushed for us to be there, and expressed his opinion time and again that we need to be part of this bloc. Netanyahu didn't suddenly discover Dr. Ben-Ari or fall in love with Itamar Ben-Gvir. He knows the math, and he knows that if we don't unite, he won't have a coalition."