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Israel's Herzog sought to calm US fears of far-right influence following election: Report

US said to fear appointment of leaders of far-right parties as ministers in any new coalition could damage relations between the countries
US President Joe Biden, right, met with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, in the Oval Office on 26 October (Reuters)

US officials are increasingly concerned that far-right parties are set to attain positions of power within Israel's government ahead of Tuesday's elections, according to a report by Walla news, an Israeli website.

Final polls in Israel predict that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is within just a single seat of an outright majority aided by his alliance with parties that have called for policies including apartheid-style segregation between Jewish and Arab women in the country's maternity wards. 

According to Walla, Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog during a visit to the US earlier this week was forced to allay fears put to him by officials in the Biden administration that members of far-right parties could be appointed to any new coalition government.

Herzog reportedly told senior US officials not to "jump to conclusions" following the publication of recent polls. 

Senior Israeli and US officials told Walla that concerns were raised both in a meeting between Herzog and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and in a meeting between the president and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

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The report said the Biden administration fears that, if leaders of the far-right parties receive senior positions, this could damage relations between the US and Israel.

While neither Blinken nor Sullivan directly referred to any Israeli politician by name, the officials said it was clear they were referring in particular to Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of Otzma Yehudit.

According to reports, Herzog told US officials to allow the "democratic process to do its thing".

Record sixth term

Israel is facing its fifth election in less than four years, and forming a working and cohesive coalition government has become notoriously difficult. 

Netanyahu has allied with both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir as he attempts to secure a record sixth term in office. 

Despite their concerns, Biden and Sullivan reportedly assured Herzog that they would work with any elected government though tensions might arise if specific parties join the governing coalition. 

The formation of any future Israeli government may take weeks, if not months, owing to the increasing polarisation of Israeli politics. 

Walla reported that US officials believe that if far-right were to gain positions of power, there could be increasing domestic pressure in the US to change the country's staunchly pro-Israeli stance. 

'European fascist'

If Netanyahu and his allies are able to cobble together a working coalition, the extremist views of his allies are likely to gain even more attention in the international arena. 

Ben-Gvir has previously called for disloyal politicians to be deported from Israel, along with Palestinians who throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

Earlier this month, Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post's editor-in-chief, called Ben-Gvir "the modern Israeli version of an American white supremacist and a European fascist".

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"He is a threat to the future of Israel's fragile democratic character, and if he gets his way - and Netanyahu gets his 61 seats - these two men will have the ability to demolish the country as we know it," said Katz. 

As well as domestic tensions, analysts have also pointed out that any alliance between Netanyahu's Likud party and Religious Zionism is also likely to come under strain with regard to the country's foreign policy in the region.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed is reported to have warned Netanyahu in private that any cooperation with extreme right-wing parties could damage nascent relations between the countries.

Israel has faced several election cycles since 2019, the year Netanyahu, now 73, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases that he describes as a "rigged" political witch-hunt meant to keep him out of office.

According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 first-time voters will participate in the coming election who did not vote in March 2021, the last time elections were held.

Many of those voting for the first time, the majority of whom are Jewish, are expected to favour right and far-right parties over the left.

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