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Israel Political Parties: Otzma Yehudit

Otzma Yehudit (Hebrew: עוצמה יהודית, lit., Jewish Strength) is a far-right political party in Israel. It was originally formed as Otzma LeYisrael (עָצְמָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, lit., Strength for Israel), or Strong Israel, and was established on November 13, 2012, by Members of Knesset Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari, who split from the National Union to form a new party ahead of the 2013 elections. Eldad is secular and Ben-Ari is an Orthodox Jew.

In the 2013 election, the party failed to pass the minimum threshold to win any seats in the parliament. In the 2015 election, the party was led by Michael Ben-Ari. Otzma Yehudit struck a deal to run as a joint ticket with the HaAm Itanu Party. The list failed to cross the newly raised electoral threshold, and no representatives were elected to the 20th Knesset.

The party is considered to be Religious Zionist, Kahanist, ultra-nationalist and anti-Arab. The party platform  calls for the annexation of the West Bank, and for complete Israeli rule between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The party opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, advocates the cancellation of the Oslo accords, and wishes to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The party also advocates increased Jewish history education in all elementary schools to “deepen Jewish identity in students.” The party opposes “freezing construction of Jewish settlements, releasing terrorists, or negotiating with the PA [Palestinian Authority].” It also calls for the deportation of “Arab extremists.”

In January 2019, the party entered talks with the Tkuma Party to create an alliance. In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to Otzma Yehudit in an attempt to try and get the party to run on a list with Tkuma and the Jewish Home Party, Negotiations for a joint list with Tkuma failed and Otzma Yehudit subsequently reached a deal with the Jewish Home Party that would give Otzma Yehudit the 5th and 8th seats if they won that many seats in the April 2019 election. Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Bin-Gvir were chosen to fill those seats.

Ben-Ari is know as provocateur who has called left-wing NGOs “traitors that must be oppressed at any cost,” “internal bacteria” and “enemies of Israel.” Dror Liba also noted that “he has 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.”

Ben-Gvir is a lawyer who has represented Jewish terror suspects and Jews accused of vandalism of Arab property. He is also a former Kach activist who has been convicted of incitement to racism, support of a terror organization, rioting and hindering a police officer in the line of duty.

In response to a petition to disqualify Ben-Ari and Ben-Gvir from running for the Knesset, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit submitted a legal opinion to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee recommending that Ben-Ari be declared ineligible on grounds of incitement to racism. “As for Ben-Gvir," Mandelblit said, “despite the fact that the evidence in his case is very disturbing and approaches the area that prevents running in the Knesset elections, in light of the stringent tests set forth in the Supreme Court’s ruling to disqualify a candidate for elections, the request in his case should be rejected.”

On March 6, 2019, Ben-Ari received approval to run for the Knesset from the Central Elections Committee. On March 17, the Supreme Court overruled the Committee and disqualified Ben-Ari.

The United Right won seven seats in the September 2019 election. Otzma was dropped from the coalition for the March 2020 election.

Sources: Ari Yashar, “Otzma Yehudit: We're crushed, but not despairing,” Israel National News, (March 18, 2015);
Yair Ettinger, “Former Shas leader Yishai teams up with extreme rightists,” Haaretz, (January 30, 2015);
Lahav Harkov, “Eldad, Ben-Aro form new party: Strong Israel,” Jerusalem Post.  (November 13, 2012);
Gil Ronen, “Otzma LeYisrael was 9,000 votes short,” Arutz Sheva, (January 23, 2013);
Gil Hoffman,  “Far-right Jewish Strength Party to run for Knesset,” Jerusalem Post, (December 14, 2014);
“Otzma Yehudit,” Wikipedia;
Dror Liba, “Otzma Yehudit's history of racism and provocation,” Ynet, (February 21, 2019);
Elad Benari, “Attorney General: Disqualify Michael Ben-Ari,” Arutz Sheva, (March 5, 2019);
Jonathan Lis, “Kahanist Party Leader Allowed to Run in Israeli Election Despite Attorney General's Objection,” Haaretz, (March 6, 2019);
Yonah Jeremy Bob, “High Court Disqualifies Ben-Ari; Rules Ben-Gvir, All Arab Parties Eligible,” Jerusalem Post, (March 17, 2019);
Jonathan Lis, Josh Breiner and Yossi Verter, “Right-wing Party Ditches Kahanists to Join Broad Union as Israeli Parties Submit Final Rosters,” Haaretz, (January 15, 2020).