Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to deliver his speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) conference next month. He will certainly receive the usual round of applause, but alongside the smiles and hugs normally lavished on him, he will also be greeted with suspicion and doubt that certainly weren't there before.
American Jewry is dealing with rising anti-Semitism and a spike in hate crimes—the very worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in October—and a president that at times seems to be held aloft by this ill wind instead of fighting it. And to top it all, Netanyahu has provided the followers of the extreme-right Rabbi Meir Kahane an entry pass to the 21st Knesset.
The joint Jewish Home-National Union party has agreed to run together with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) in the upcoming April 9 race. The agreement on the union, which will be broken off immediately after Election Day, follows days of hectic talks egged on by Netanyahu, who put a lot of pressure on the sides and even made concessions of his own to make it happen in order to form a wide right-wing bloc.
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's movement was subsequently banned from Israeli politics as racist. He was assassinated in 1990 in New York by an Egyptian-born American.
By pushing to bring Kahane's followers back into the Knesset, Netanyahu has crossed one too many red lines in the eyes of US Jews, who view the Kahanists as the Jewish counterparts of the anti-Semites threatening their community.
A rift has been created not only between Netanyahu and the liberal left-wing circles in the US, but also between the Israeli prime minister and the vast majority of American Jews, who were brought up to loathe the Kahanist racism but who woke up one morning to discover that Netanyahu had labeled that racism as morally and politically kosher.
Kahane, a Brooklyn native, developed his racist doctrine in the US, where he also founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which is listed by the FBI as a terrorist group and constitutes the ideological base upon which Kach was founded.
In the early 1970s, JDL mostly focused on activity in protest of the Soviet Union's refusal to allow Jews living in the USSR to emigrate.
The Kahanist terrorism's first victim was Iris Kones, the 27-year-old Jewish secretary of a New York company that managed concert tours for Soviet groups. She was killed by a bomb placed in the company offices in protest of its work with the Soviet Union.
JDL's violent activity to protect Jews left its mark on the entire Jewish community, which viewed Kahane as a symbol of hate and the Jewish version of supremacist hate group Ku Klux Klan.
Kahanism's American roots are the main reason why US Jews detest the movement and its followers. Similarly, they don't view this doctrine as an Israeli phenomenon, rather as a malignant tumor growing in Israel's backyard that for many years has symbolized the ugly and most dangerous face of racism.
When Netanyahu promoted the contaminated alliance between Jewish Home-National Union, Likud and Kahane's followers, he could not have taken into account the intensity of the revulsion that US Jews would feel toward the Kahanists. I doubt that he realized that among many of Israel's friends in the US, Kahane is considered on a footing with the supporters of white supremacy, or that his name is mentioned alongside that of former KKK leader David Duke.
Moreover, the fact Otzma Yehudit is a party whose ideological roots lie in the US led to great dismay and condemnation by American Jewish organizations, among them AIPAC and the American Jewish Congress, which usually avoid criticizing both the policies of the Israeli government and its prime minister.
Yael Patir is the director of the Israel Program at J Street.