While Kahanists have been elected to Israel’s Knesset before, Netanyahu’s deal is something very new. Until now, Kahane and his party were the third rail of Israeli politics. Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, like Netanyahu a member of the Likud Party, refused to be in the Knesset when Kahane spoke. Eventually, Israel’s supreme court banned Kahane from elected office altogether, upholding a law outlawing incitement and racism in the Knesset.
Now Netanyahu has given Kahane’s party the equivalent of a Kosher certificate, as Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov put it. His decision has scandalized many of Israel’s friends in America. The Anti-Defamation League has denounced it. Said Leon Wieseltier, long one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the U.S.: “Netanyahu has just embraced the darkest face of contemporary Jewry. The prime minister of Israel is in the gutter.” Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat who now directs the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East program, said Netanyahu’s decision “reflects desperation and ambition and an unprincipled willingness to do almost anything to maintain himself in power.”