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US snubs Israeli far-right ministers from 4th of July party

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich left off US embassy in Israel's guest list amid tensions
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were snubbed from the US Independence Day reception in Israel (AFP)

Two powerful far-right ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have been left off the invite list of the US embassy in Israel’s 4th of July party.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were snubbed from the US Independence Day reception, set to be held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on 3 July, Haaretz reported on Monday.

The decision to exclude Smotrich and Ben Gvir underlines how Netayahu’s reliance on once fringe, far-right lawmakers has put the US in an awkward spot.

Israel is the US’s closest Middle East ally, but ties have come under strain over the Israeli government’s actions in the occupied West Bank and Netanyahu’s contentious judicial overhaul.

On Monday the US said it was "deeply troubled" by Israel’s decision to approve the construction of more than 5,000 new illegal housing units in the occupied West Bank. Some of those homes are set to be built in the Eli settlement as a response to the shooting that killed four Israeli settlers in the area earlier this month.

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The shooting followed a huge Israeli raid in the northern occupied West Bank city of Jenin, which killed seven Palestinians, including two 15-year-olds.

After the Eli shooting, Israeli settlers rampaged through Palestinian towns, burning houses and setting cars on fire in scenes that have been described as an organised “pogrom". American citizens of Palestinian descent have also been subject to the assaults, MEE reported.

Ben Gvir and Smotrich have outsized influence in Netanyahu’s government and have increasingly demanded he takes a harder line against Palestinians. After the Eli shooting, Ben Gvir demanded Netanyahu launch a new “military campaign” in the West Bank and start “bringing down buildings”.

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The escalating violence has derailed the Biden administration’s efforts to foster closer ties between Israel and Arab states. Last week, Morocco cancelled its plans to host a second Negev forum, over Israel’s decision to expand settlements.

The White House tried to sidestep dealing with Ben Gvir and Smotrich. In March, the US weighed denying the latter request for a diplomatic visa after his calls to “wipe out” a Palestinian village. The visa was eventually granted.

Other members of Israel’s government have received an invite to the Independence Day event, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Economy Minister Nir Barkat. Opposition party leaders Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, and Avidgor Lieberman were also invited.

Amid the tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has been unable to secure an invitation to the White House. In May, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said he would bring Netanyahu to the US if President Biden didn’t.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced that he would visit China. A statement from the prime minister’s office said that Netanyahu informed the Biden administration about the trip a month ago.

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