US expresses concern over selection of far-right Israeli defence minister: Report
One senior member of the Joe Biden administration told the American outlet that bilateral relationships would be “hugely influenced” by who takes the position in the new government, a comment that seemed to hint at the possibility of Bezalel Smotrich taking the post.
Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism political alliance, is poised to become a minister in the incoming governing coalition.
The far-right MP and his alliance, the third biggest in parliament, are currently in negotiations with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox parties to form a new government following the fifth election in less than four years.
Israel's Channel 12 has previously reported that Smotrich is a likely candidate to become either finance or defence minister, while his fellow party member Itamar Ben-Gvir has demanded the public security minister role, which would put him in charge of the police.
The minister of defence is one of the most important positions in Israel as it directly influences policies regarding the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
There has been alarm both inside Israel and abroad at members of Religious Zionism joining the government. The party is the successor to the banned Kach party and has ideological links to the Jewish Defence League, an organisation banned as a terrorist group in numerous countries, including the US.
The party espouses greater influence of Jewish religious law in the state and society and has been branded "racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and anti-democratic" by the Anti-Defamation League.
Following the Religious Zionism big win in the 1 November election, US officials reportedly said the Biden administration was unlikely to work with Ben-Gvir.
Before the election, Biden raised similar concerns with Israeli President Isaac Herzog during a visit to the US last month.
According to reports, the US administration said it feared that if leaders of the far-right parties receive senior positions, this could damage relations between the US and Israel.
On Wednesday, Herzog warned party representatives at a meeting in his residence that the “entire world” is concerned about Ben-Gvir becoming a minister.