Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting tooth-and-nail to cling to his lofty seat in the run-up to Knesset elections scheduled for April 9. For the first time in many years, his Likud Party faces a serious challenger. Kahol Lavan (Blue White), a centrist alliance formed in December last year, led by Benny Gantz, a former armed forces chief-of-staff-turned politician, is edging ahead in various polls.

Gantz and his partners, among them former minister of finance Yair Lapid and former defence minister Moshe Yaa’alon, are running on a values-based national reconciliation ticket.

“Our doors are open to all, right-wingers, centrists, left-wingers,” Gantz said. “Our hands are outstretched to all Israelis — Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, Jews and non-Jews.”

However, as is usually the case, no single party is likely to sweep the board and all will be compelled to seek coalition partners in order to form a government. Netanyahu, who fears indictment on multiple corruption and bribery charges, has chosen to gamble for his political life. He is now in bed with the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, the most heinous hard-right racist party in the country’s recent history.

Otzma Yehudit is made up of vicious racist bigoted disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane who called for Palestinian genocide and organised terrorist attacks against Palestinian targets. His party was declared a terrorist group by both Israel and the United States. It may have changed its name but not its despicable hate-filled ideology. Today, its ambitions include the resettlement of Palestinians and Arab Israelis throughout the Arab world, an enlargement of Israel’s borders, the barring of Muslims from Haram Al Sharif as well as the criminalisation of romantic relations between Jews and non-Jews.

Until now Netanyahu believed he was unassailable. Shielded by the administration of United States President Donald Trump and its allied sycophants he was able to do his worst without fear of repercussions. Those heady days during the late 1990s when peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemed a certainty are long gone. Some Western nations are working to pass laws that would equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Ironically, with his reach-out to this sinister group to feather his own nest, Netanyahu’s loudest critics are his fellow Jews in the US.

“The stench from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foul deal with admirers of Meir Kahane’s rancid racism was so strong that it crossed the oceans and compelled even the normally obedient and circumspect organisation American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to break their silence,” reads a column published in Ha’aretz under the headline ‘For US Jewry, Kahanist caper casts Netanyahu as Prince of Darkness and Trump on Steroids’. AIPAC has tweeted its refusal to meet with members of “this racist and reprehensible party”.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has also issued a statement blasting the views of Otzma Yehudit as “reprehensible” and contrary to “the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel”. The influential rabbi Benny Lau has compared voting for Meir Kahane’s legacy to supporting the Nazis’ anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. Staunch supporter of the Jewish State, former Democrat lawmaker Robert Wexler decried Netanyahu’s decision to invite Kahanists on the ticket, saying, “What shall we tell our children?”

The clamour against Likud’s poisonous new partner is growing daily, fuelled by Israel’s media. Has the country’s Teflon leader made a fatal mistake or will his gamble pay off? In a world where the far-right is making gains unthinkable a decade ago, only the foolhardy would bet his or her house either way.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.