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Right-wing Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir (R) talks with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) November 22. Photo: Abir Sultan/AFP via Getty Images
Several US Jewish leaders warned during a meeting with Israeli officials earlier this month that racist and extremist moves by the new Israeli government could seriously impede support for Israel among US Jews, six sources who attended the meeting in the Israeli Axios said they attended or were informed of the Embassy in Washington.
Why it matters: The new Israeli government is expected to be the country’s most right-wing ever. A senior Israeli official said the meeting at the embassy showed the concern of the organized Jewish community in the US about the incoming Israeli government because of its expected policies towards Jews in the diaspora and against democratic values.
- The December 7 meeting was attended by representatives of several mainstream US Jewish organizations that form the backbone of the pro-Israel community in the US. They are all regular contacts at the Israeli embassy.
Driving the news: The representatives of the Jewish organizations were invited to a meeting with Shuli Davidovich, the head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s office for the diaspora, who asked for their opinion on the political situation in Israel, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified freely about what was discussed at the meeting.
- The meeting took place against the background of negotiations between Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
- According to sources attending the meeting, the atmosphere was very difficult and almost all participants expressed concerns about the policies of the new Israeli government.
A number of concerns was related to religious pluralism and possible changes to Israel’s “law of return” and the Jewish conversion law that could adversely affect the US Jewish community.
- The “Law of Return” sets the criteria for who has the right to immigrate to Israel. Currently, Jews and non-Jews who have at least one Jewish grandparent and spouse are eligible for Israeli citizenship.
- The majority of the members of the new government want to change the law and make naturalization more difficult for non-Jews. Such a move could affect millions of Jews around the world, including in the United States
- Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press earlier this month that he would 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 changes,” Netanyahu told Meet the Press.
Jewish leaders also rose Concerns about Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – who have both expressed racist and Jewish supremacist views – and Avi Maoz, who has expressed anti-LGBTQ views, said sources attending the meeting.
Backstage: Attendees at the meeting told Axios, several of the Jewish representatives said that policies that are racist and antagonistic towards both Reformed and Conservative Jews and violate the rights of LGBTQ+ people could harm donations to Israel by the US Jewish community. Such policies could also push younger Jews in the country to further distance themselves from Israel.
- Some of those attending the meeting also warned of a scenario of demonstrations by US Jews outside the Israeli embassy in Washington to protest 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 they could send hundreds of people on planes to Israel to demonstrate in Jerusalem,” a source said.
- The overall message of the meeting was that the expected policies of the new Israeli government could make it significantly more difficult for Jewish organizations in the US to enlist support for Israel, several participants at the meeting said.
- “We said we were there to warn them it could be really bad and they should be aware,” said one attendee.
The other side: The Israeli officials who attended the meeting were stunned by what they heard and tried to reassure the representatives of the Jewish organizations, urging them to wait and see and stressing that they are communicating their views to the new Israeli government will, two sources who attended the meeting said.
- 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 she was very concerned about her meeting with the Jewish organizations.
- When Davidovich returned to Israel, she informed senior State Department officials about the meeting and said she was very concerned, a senior State Department official told me.
- The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Game Status: The new Israeli government with Netanyahu as prime minister is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday.
- Ben Gvir will serve as the new Minister for National Security with unprecedented authority over the police, including border guard units in the occupied West Bank.
- Smotrich will be the new Finance Minister and Minister of Defense with authority over the military units responsible for civilian policy in the West Bank.
- Maoz becomes deputy minister in the prime minister’s office and heads a new commission on Jewish identity and has authority over school education programs.
The coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his partners contained many clauses that have already sparked public outrage, including passing a law allowing certain companies to discriminate against homosexuals on religious grounds and repealing a law banning racists from voting in elections.
- Netanyahu issued several clarifications on Sunday to distance himself from those parts of the coalition agreements, while his advisers told reporters he has no intention of implementing them.
Something to see: Representatives of the Jewish organizations said during the meeting they would like to meet Netanyahu after he takes office to discuss their concerns directly with him, the sources said.
Scoop: US Jewish Leaders Warn Israeli Officials Of Coming Right-wing Government – Axios – S Chronicles
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