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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 Ben Gvir were chosen to fill those seats.

Ben-Ari is known as a 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.

Before the 2022 election, Netanyahu brokered a deal for Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party to run together with Otzma Yehudit to assure they would win seats in the Knesset. Individually, they were less likely to succeed and would deprive Netanyahu of the votes he needs if he hopes to be prime minister. Smotrich is first on the joint list and Ben-Gvir second.

The party did better than expected, winning nearly 11% of the vote and 14 seats, making it the third-largest party in the 25th Knesset. The likelihood that the party will be part of a governing coalition under Netanyahu has alarmed many Israelis, Jews abroad, and international leaders.

The Times of Israel summarized the most prominent policy positions of the party: “encouraging Arab citizens of Israel to emigrate; annexing the West Bank without affording Palestinians the right to vote or other civil rights; imposing the death penalty for terrorists; using live fire against Palestinian rioters; immunity from prosecution for IDF soldiers for military actions they carry out; overhauling the legal system, crimping the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation and giving the government the ability to pack the bench with ideological compatriots.”

Just before the election, Ben-Gvir said he would introduce legislation to cancel Netanyahu’s graft trial.

Ben-Gvir justified the fears of many inside and outside Israel when he gave a speech praising Kahane on November 10, 2022. He attracted boos when he said, “It is no secret that today I am not Rabbi Kahane and I do not support the deportation of all Arabs, and I will not enact laws for separate beaches.” He won back the crowd when he said, “we will act and do everything to expel terrorists from the country for the sake of the Jewish character of Israel, for the settlements and its Jewish identity.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent; there is no other word for it. It is abhorrent. And we remain concerned, as we said before, by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of rhetoric among violent, right-wing extremists.”

During the consultation with President Isaac Herzog after the election to determine who would be given the first opportunity to form a government (Herzog chose Netanyahu), Herzog told Ben-Gvir, “You and your party have a certain image that has elicited concern in many places regarding your attitude toward Arabs and Muslims in our country.” Ben-Gvir said, “I’m not a racist, you know that perfectly well. I love my people and want things to be good for the Arabs in Umm el-Fahm and Nazareth and to have order. When there’s no order there, we don’t have order either. I don’t make generalizations about all the Arabs.”

Concerned with past statements Ben-Gvir has made about the Temple Mount, Herzog said, “The Muslim world asks me about the Temple Mount. That topic is sensitive.”

“We aren’t saying that the Temple Mount isn’t sacred to others, but it must be remembered that the Temple Mount is our heart, our history,” Ben-Gvir replied. “I ask you, sir, when you speak with all the officials, to remember and recall that the Mount is sacred to the people of Israel too. We all oppose racism, and you cannot tell a Jew, ‘You can’t visit the Temple Mount because you’re Jewish.’”

News reports have suggested the Biden administration may boycott Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.

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).
“Netanyahu brokers deal for far-right’s Smotrich, Ben Gvir to join forces in election,” Times of Israel, (August 26, 2022).
Jeremy Sharon, “Ben Gvir’s policy goals: Going to extremes even Europe’s far right won’t touch,” Times of Israel, (October 28, 2022).
“Ben Gvir says he’ll demand law that will cancel Netanyahu’s corruption trial,” Times of Israel, (October 30, 2022).
Barak Ravid, “U.S. unlikely to work with Jewish supremacist expected to be made Israeli minister,” Axios, (November 2, 2022).
“Israel Election: Meet the Extremist Lawmakers About to Join the Government,” Haaretz, (
Jeremy Sharon, “Ben Gvir hails racist Kahane, is booed for saying he doesn’t want to expel all Arabs,” Times of Israel, (November 10, 2022).
“Department Press Briefing,” U.S. Department of State, (November 10, 2022).