“There’s a difference between a racist party entering the Knesset — the fringes of Israeli democracy can unfortunately contain such elements — and their being encouraged by the prime minister,” Mr. Plesner said. Still, on Sunday, Aipac said it was “honored” to announce that Mr. Netanyahu would attend its conference next month.
For Mr. Netanyahu, his push to harvest every last right-wing vote is not merely about winning re-election. With the attorney general expected any day now to announce that he will seek Mr. Netanyahu’s indictment in a sprawling bribery scandal, the prime minister hopes to line up enough lawmakers to keep him in power even if he is put on trial — “what you may label an indictment-proof coalition,” said Mr. Plesner.
“He’s entering this campaign with much fewer inhibitions than in the past,” Mr. Plesner said.
Indeed, in just the past few weeks, to score political points Mr. Netanyahu has antagonized Arab diplomats by leaking a video of a private meeting with them; attacked members of his own party he sees as potential successors; bragged publicly about secret military strikes in Syria; warned darkly that a victory by Mr. Gantz would give Arab politicians enhanced power; and warned that “a Palestinian state would endanger our existence,” just months before the United States is expected to issue its peace plan.
In pushing the Otzma Yehudit deal, Mr. Netanyahu even threw his own party, Likud, under the bus, giving away one of its Knesset candidacies to a member of Jewish Home as recompense for the merger. Moreover, he promised Jewish Home both the housing and education ministries.
That itself raises concerns among more moderate right-wing Israelis. A leader of Jewish Home, Bezalel Smotrich, who could be handed one of those posts, has called himself a “proud homophobe,” supported segregated maternity wards for Arab and Jewish women, said Jewish developers should not have to sell homes to Arabs and favored a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian stone-throwers.
With old lines between Likud and the farthest right wing growing blurry, Yossi Klein Halevi, a scholar at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, observed that campaign ads had popped up on city buses showing Moshe Kahlon, the foreign minister, who heads his own center-right party, alongside Menachem Begin, the first Likud prime minister.
“The sane right,” the ads say, in an implicit attack on today’s Likud.
Mr. Halevi, who was a Kahane follower in the 1970s but renounced his ideas long ago, said Israelis had yet to absorb the ramifications of the Otzma Yehudit-Jewish Home merger. “We’re in for a major moment of self-reckoning,” he said. “More and more Israelis are going to realize what that means.”