American Jewish Leaders Warn Israeli Officials About Incoming Right-Wing Government

Right-wing Israeli Member of Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir (right) talks with incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) on November 22. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images

Several American Jewish leaders during a meeting with Israeli officials earlier this month warned that racist and extremist movements in the new israeli government could seriously hamper support for Israel among Jews in the US, six sources who either attended or were briefed at the meeting at Israel’s embassy in Washington told Axios.

Why it matters: The incoming government of Israel is expected to be the most right wing of all time. A senior Israeli official said the embassy meeting represented the anxiety the organized American Jewish community has about the incoming Israeli government over its expected policies toward Jews in the Diaspora and against democratic values.

  • The December 7 meeting was attended by representatives of several major US Jewish organizations that are the backbone of the pro-Israel community in the US. All are regular contacts with the Israeli embassy.

Driving the news: The representatives of the Jewish organizations were invited to a meeting with Shuli Davidovich, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s office for the diaspora, who asked to hear his thoughts on the political situation in Israel, according to the sources, who requested anonymity. to talk. freely about what was discussed at the meeting.

  • The meeting took place in the context of negotiations between the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
  • According to sources who attended the meeting, the atmosphere was very difficult and almost all attendees expressed concern about the policies of the incoming Israeli government.

a set of concerns it was related to religious pluralism and potential changes to the Israeli “law of return” and Jewish conversion law that could negatively influence the American Jewish community.

  • The “law of return” sets out the criteria for who has the right to immigrate to Israel. Currently, Jews and non-Jews who have at least one Jewish grandparent and their spouses are eligible for Israeli citizenship.
  • Most of the incoming government wants to change the law and make it more difficult for non-Jews to obtain citizenship. Such a move could affect millions of Jews around the world, including in the US.
  • Netanyahu said in a interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this month that he will not allow the laws to be changed, but the coalition agreement he signed includes an agreement to form a committee that will review them. “It’s going to be a big debate, but I have pretty strong views. I doubt we will have any change,” Netanyahu told “Meet the Press.”

Jewish leaders also raised concerns about Netanyahu’s radical right-wing coalition partners, Itamar Ben Gvir Y bezaleel smotrich — both expressed racist and Jewish supremacist views — and Avi Maoz, who expressed anti-LGBTQ views, sources who attended the meeting said.

Behind the scenes: Meeting participants told Axios that several of the Jewish representatives said that policies that are racist, antagonistic to both reform and conservative Jews, and harm LGBTQ+ rights could harm donations to Israel from the US Jewish community. Such policies could also push the country’s younger Jews to distance themselves further from Israel.

  • Some of the meeting participants also warned of a scenario of demonstrations by American Jews outside the Israeli embassy in Washington to demonstrate against the new government or parts of it, according to four sources who attended or were briefed on the meeting.
  • “During the meeting, people even said that they could send hundreds of people on planes to Israel to demonstrate in Jerusalem,” a source said.
  • The general message of the meeting was that the expected policies of the new Israeli government could make the job of American Jewish organizations to garner support for Israel much more difficult, according to several of the meeting participants.
  • “We said we were there to warn them that it could be really bad and that they should be aware of it,” said an attendee.

The other side: Israeli officials who attended the meeting were taken aback by what they heard and tried to reassure representatives of the Jewish organizations, urging them to take a wait-and-see approach and emphasizing that they will communicate their views to the incoming Israeli government, two said. sources who attended the meeting.

  • Two Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Axios that shortly after the meeting, Davidovich briefed Israeli Ambassador Mike Herzog and all Israeli consuls general to the US who were attending a conference at the embassy. Davidovich told them that she was very alarmed by her meeting with the Jewish organizations.
  • When Davidovich returned to Israel, she informed senior Foreign Ministry officials about the meeting and said she was very concerned, a senior Foreign Ministry official told me.
  • Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Status of the situation: The new Israeli government, with Netanyahu as prime minister, is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.

  • Ben Gvir will serve as the new national security minister with unprecedented authority over the police, including border guard units in the occupied West Bank.
  • Smotrich will be the new finance minister and will serve as a minister in the Defense Ministry with authority over military units in charge of civilian policy in the West Bank.
  • Maoz will become deputy minister in the prime minister’s office and will head a new commission for Jewish identity and have authority over educational programs for schools.

The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his associates included many clauses that have already created a public stir, including the passage of a law that will allow certain companies to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds and the cancellation of a law that prohibits racists from running for office. .

  • Netanyahu issued several clarifications on Sunday in an attempt to distance himself from these parts of the coalition deals, while aides told reporters he has no intention of implementing them.

What to see: Representatives of the Jewish organizations said during the meeting that they would like to meet with Netanyahu after he takes office to discuss their concerns directly with him, the sources said.

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