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Netanyahu secures far-right alliance in boost for followers of Meir Kahane

Deal brokered by Israeli prime minister may allow supporters of fanatical rabbi into parliament
Netanyahu says alliance between Jewish Home and Jewish Power aims to 'unite the ranks' (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has secured a political deal that may propel the far-right followers of fanatical rabbi Meir Kahane into parliament.

Under the Netanyahu-backed agreement, the right-wing Jewish Home party will merge with the ultranationalist Jewish Power party, a move that is expected to boost both parties' chances of securing seats in the Knesset after Israeli elections on 9 April.

In exchange for the merger, Netanyahu pledged to assign Jewish Home lawmakers to the education and housing ministries, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.

That is, if Netanyahu's Likud Party is able to form a government. Amid myriad Israeli political parties, a parliamentary coalition needs 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats to hold power.

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Jewish Power is led by Michael Ben-Ari, a former member of Kahane's Kach party, which has been outlawed in Israel and designated as a terrorist organisation by the US state department.

Kahane, who was killed by a gunman in New York in 1990, preached that only Jews should be able to live freely in Israel and encouraged violence against the country's critics.

Ben-Ari, a self-avowed follower of Kahane, was denied a US visa in 2012 because of his ties to Kach. In 2014, he faced calls for a ban against his participation in the elections over racism allegations.

He previously served as an elected Knesset member with the now-dissolved National Union Party.

'Prevent a leftist government'

Public opinion polls show that neither Jewish Home nor Jewish Power would win enough votes to meet the 3.2 percent threshold needed to enter parliament in Israel's proportional election system.

But joined in a coalition, they may make it to the parliament with four seats, which would help Netanyahu secure another term as prime minister.

Both parties have agreed to the merger, which would "prevent the establishment of a leftist government", Jewish Power said late Wednesday, Reuters reported.

In a statement from his right-wing Likud Party, Netanyahu said the deal aims to unite "the ranks in order to ensure that the votes of the right will not be lost".

The right-wing coalition's main election opponent is the centrist Resilience Party, headed by former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz.

Likud is poised to win the most seats in the parliament, public opinion polls show, despite multiple corruption investigations Netanyahu is facing.

The prime minister's new right-wing alliance also comes amid an uptick in racist attacks against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.