Ben-Gvir (American Jewish Organizations Respond) Jewish Power

From the caustic and critical to the supine, here are responses from American Jewish organizations to the possible/probable establishment of a theo-fascist government of Israel under Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu.

T’ruah: “With his record of hate speech and violence, coupled with his strong anti-Arab racist beliefs, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir has no place in the political mainstream. Allowing any messages for the justification of violence to be elevated to a government platform endangers the safety and security of people living in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. We also hold former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for his role in legitimizing Ben-Gvir and his party as a means of reclaiming his own power. 

“Although T’ruah has been sounding the alarm about Ben-Gvir and others in his party for years, there has been a remarkable lack of public concern among American Jewish organizations about Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionist slate, which traffics in racism and homophobia, advocates for the deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and incites violence against Palestinians and Israeli leftists. 

“Jewish organizations have a moral obligation to stand together against Ben-Gvir and his party and loudly declare that they do not represent Jewish interests. Any form of hatred is not a Jewish value and those who incite political or social violence in the name of our faith should be called out and criticized. Every Jewish organization that regularly invites Israeli political leaders to speak at their conferences and events, or that meets with Israeli elected officials during delegations, must commit today to never inviting Ben-Gvir, Betzalel Smotrich, or other members of their party to address a U.S. Jewish audience. In the 1980s, mainstream American Jewish organizations broadly condemned Meir Kahane and his party. All Jewish organizations must do the same to his ideological successors. 

“Although we do not yet know the final tallies and what coalitions will be built to create Israel’s next government, we must call out the dangers of a Kahanist majority so that all know they represent the incitement of violence on Palestinians and Israeli leftists.”

Anti-Defamation League said it was “greatly concerned” about a potential coalition with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, saying it “would run counter to Israel’s founding principles, and impact its standing, even among its strongest supporters.” It vowed to combat hateful rhetoric on the ground in Israel, while also warning it may “further embolden those committed to denying Israel’s legitimacy who will engage in the relentless demonizing of Zionism.”

Democratic Majority for Israel Board Co-Chairs Ann Lewis and Todd Richman “DMFI has repeatedly reiterated our belief that this party should have no place in Israel’s governing coalition. Most Israelis find their views abhorrent as they conflict with the country’s founding principles and the shared values that undergird the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“Just as the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong despite antisemites, racists, insurrectionists, conspiracy theorists, and authoritarians in the U.S. Congress, so too will the relationship survive having Kahanists in the Knesset — despite our strong objection to their presence,”

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal “Campaign rhetoric and governing effectively are two different things. We expect every Israeli government to uphold and strengthen democracy, treat all people with respect for their political and human rights, and engage the diversity of the Jewish community in Israel and the diaspora, adding that his organization will determine the best path forward as the next coalition emerges.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami: “Last night’s election results in Israel are deeply troubling for all who care about Israel and about liberal democracy globally — for those whose core values of justice, equality and freedom are fundamentally at odds with those of the parties and leaders who stand on the cusp of victory,” he said, adding that “the likely formation of an ultra-right Netanyahu government should force a moment of serious reckoning for all Americans who care about the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and a just, equal and democratic future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

J Sreet:

The official results of Israel’s election are now in, and it is clear that Benjamin Netanyahu will be asked to form the next coalition and will likely pull together the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

J Street is deeply concerned about what this new coalition will mean for the fate of democratic institutions, the rule of law and the ideals of justice, equality and freedom on which the state of Israel was founded – the shared values in which the US-Israel relationship is grounded. Netanyahu severely disregarded those principles and values during the election campaign, when he partnered with and empowered convicted terror supporter Itamar Ben-Gvir and other racist and homophobic extremists in the ‘Jewish Power’ and associated parties to form a far-right alliance. Now, that faction appears set to take on major ministerial powers in the new government – an incredibly dangerous development.

Those who truly believe that the US-Israel relationship should be grounded in our shared democratic values cannot interact with this forthcoming government in a “business as usual” manner. We therefore call on both the US government and American pro-Israel organizations to not engage with Ben-Gvir or others in the next Israeli government who have a proven track record of criminal support for terror, or whose rhetoric and actions clearly cross a red line in opposition to the core values and principles of the US-Israel relationship.

It is not only possible, but essential, to maintain the US-Israel relationship via coordination that does not involve extremists like Ben-Gvir. Making clear that he and others hostile to democracy and simple decency are persona non grata is necessary to protect the bilateral relationship, rather than weaken it.

It is also critical to recognize that Ben-Gvir’s extremism is in service of a radical anti-Palestinian, anti-diplomacy agenda that openly seeks to destroy any possibility of a mutually negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the overwhelming support among likely members of the incoming government for outright annexation of occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law, the US government should immediately and forcefully reiterate its unequivocal opposition to unilateral annexation. The United States must be clear and consistent that it does not accept acquisition of territory by conquest, whether by a fierce adversary or a close ally.

The US government must also more forcefully oppose “creeping” or de facto annexation and insist on the full protection of the human and other fundamental rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, as required of Israel as an occupying power under international law. It is now more important than ever that the US be clear and consistent that acts like settlement expansion, the construction of settler-only infrastructure, evictions in East Jerusalem, demolitions of Palestinian homes, forced relocations of Palestinians and the permitting or aiding of settler violence against Palestinians are inconsistent with US interests and international law

The Union for Reform Judaism, “As Netanyahu assembles his coalition, we are profoundly concerned about promises of cabinet positions he has made to Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, the leaders of the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism party. Their platforms and past actions indicate that they would curtail the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court and inhibit the rights of Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, members of the LGBTQ+ community and large segments of Jews who are non-Orthodox.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “We congratulate PM and Likud Leader Benjamin Netanyahu on winning the elections and we wish him well in this endeavor. We are greatly concerned that the results of the Israeli election suggest the next government, led by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will likely include representatives from the Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionist parties, including their leaders Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, and offering them government ministries.  Both have a long history of engaging in racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and other hateful behavior. 
“In particular, we are concerned about several of Mr. Ben-Gvir’s stated policy intentions, including to set up a government office to “encourage” the emigration of Arab citizens of Israel.  – whom his party refers to as “enemies of Israel.”  
“As an organization deeply committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish and democratic state, we believe that including these far-right individuals and parties in an Israeli government would run counter to Israel’s founding principles, and impact its standing, even among its strongest supporters.  
 As an organization committed to fighting racism and all forms of hate, we will not shirk from calling out expressions by, and policies of, the Israeli government and Israeli leaders that are hateful, racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and anti-democratic.  On the ground in Israel, we are committed to our important work promoting social cohesion within Israel society, including fighting racism, bigotry and all forms of hate, and standing up to those who seek to attack or marginalize minority groups of all kinds.   We will continue our advocacy for Israeli-Arab normalization, and for policies that maintain the viability of an ultimate two-state solution.  
“We also anticipate that there are those who are committed to denying the legitimacy of Israel, and who engage in the relentless demonizing of Zionism, who will be further emboldened by these developments, with repercussions for global Jewish communities, and, in particular, for Jewish students on campus. ADL remains strongly committed to combatting these initiatives and working to counter anti-Zionism and other efforts to attack Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.”

The American Jewish Committee: “Israel is a vibrant democracy that includes and represents tremendous diversity of thought, belief, ethnicity and faith. AJC’s advocacy will continue to strengthen Israel’s security and place in the world, enhance the deep bond between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, and be centered on the shared values that unite Israel, the United States and our democratic allies.

“Still, the committee stressed that “past statements of some potential members of the governing coalition raise serious concerns,” about issues the organization prioritizes, such as “pluralism, inclusion and increased opportunities for peace and normalization.” The AJC concluded by stating that, “regardless of the composition of any governing coalition, we will continue to work with those in the Israeli government and in Israeli society who are committed to advancing democracy, inclusion [and] peace, and to combating efforts to undermine these values.”

The Jewish Federations of North America“The Jewish Federations of North America respect and salute Israel’s vibrant democratic process, which allows all Israelis a voice and vote in forming their government. We look forward to working with the government selected by the Israeli people, as we always have, to support Jews around the world and strengthen the relationships between Israel, the North American Jewish community and our government leaders,” a press release on behalf of JFNA said.

AIPAC: “It is clear that the Knesset – like the US Congress – will include leaders of a wide range of different political, ideological, economic, racial, and religious identities and perspectives. The Jewish state is a robust democracy that shares America’s interests and values. We look forward to working with the US administration and Democrats and Republicans in Congress to strengthen the US-Israel relationship”

ZOA national president Morton A. Klein “It is wrong for the American and Israel Left to falsely call the Religious Zionism Party (RZP) ‘extreme,’ and that the Biden administration is even reportedly considering wrongfully refusing to work with democratically-elected Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. Yet Biden works with Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas, who pays Arabs to murder Jews; names schools, streets and sports teams after Jew-killers; calls Jews ‘filthy’; and says no Jew will be allowed in their state. Ben-Gvir is now a 46-year-old civil rights attorney and repeatedly and clearly renounced certain views that he held when he was a teenager decades ago.”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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