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US: Jewish leaders warn Israeli officials over new far-right government, says report

In a meeting at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Jewish leaders say they could demonstrate against new government
Israeli right-wing Knesset member Itamar ben Gvir chats with incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 15 November 2022
Israeli right wing Knesset member Itamar ben Gvir chats with incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 15 November 2022 (AFP)

Several US Jewish leaders have warned Israeli officials that racist and extremist moves by its new government could seriously hinder support for Israel among Jews in the US, according to a report by Axios.

The warning was given during a meeting between Jewish leaders and Israeli officials at the Israeli embassy in Washington on 7 December, six sources told Axios.

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Several mainstream US Jewish organisations, which Axios said were all regular interlocutors of the Israeli embassy, were invited for a meeting with Shuli Davidovich, the head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry bureau for the diaspora.

Sources told the news site that the atmosphere was very difficult and almost all of the attendees raised concerns about the policy plans of the incoming Israeli government.

One concern was related to religious pluralism and possible changes to the Israeli "law of return", which sets the criteria for who has the right to immigrate to Israel. In its current state, the law states that Jews and non-Jews who have at least one Jewish grandparent and their spouses are eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Some of the meeting's attendees also warned that "they could send hundreds of people in planes to Israel in order to demonstrate in Jerusalem".

The Israeli officials in attendance were taken aback by the warning, urging the groups to take a wait-and-see approach - as the Biden administration said it would do.

Blocking far-right from US synagogues

The election of the incoming Israeli government, which has been labelled the most right-wing in Israel's history, was a shock to some parts of the Jewish community in the US.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism political alliance, and Itmar Ben Gvir, leader of Israel’s Jewish Power party, will take up prominent positions in the incoming government.

Smotrich, a self-declared homophobe and settler activist, has been named finance minister and will also be placed within Israel’s defence ministry, with oversight of settlements inside the illegally occupied West Bank.

The post gives Smotrich authority over building permits in settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and land issues. He will also oversee two military units in charge of running civilian and security affairs in the occupied West Bank.

Ben Gvir, who was previously convicted in Israel of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organisation, will be named national security minister, with oversight of police and the force that controls security at al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of American Jewish religious leaders have already stated their opposition to the far-right segments of the new government, signing an open letter this month stating they will not allow members of Religious Zionism to speak at their synagogues.

A Jewish human rights group representing more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America also stated this month that the new Netanyahu-led government was a "stark display of rising fascism and racism".

"Netanyahu's coalition government gives power to violent, right-wing extremists who seek to incite political violence and who will put lives at risk… from the top down. Netanyahu and his new coalition endanger both Israelis and Palestinians," Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T'ruah, said in a statement.

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