Israel’s relationships with its closest and most significant allies, the Jewish American community, are about to be tested as a result of Israel’s emerging far-right government’s collision course with Jews in the United States.
Major Jewish American organizations, who have historically been a pillar of support for Israel, have expressed concern over the far-right leanings of the rumored government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative Israeli politician. These reservations could have repercussions in Washington and widen the partisan divide over support for Israel given that American Jews tend to have liberal political views and a strong affinity for the Democratic Party.
Jewish-American leaders appear particularly concerned about the prominent role that three hardline, religious lawmakers are anticipated to play. The three have condemned the liberal, non-Orthodox streams of Judaism that are widely practiced in the United States, made racist anti-Arab statements, disparaged the LGBTQ community, and attacked Israel’s legal system. Everyone is fervently against Palestinian independence.
The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish organization in the United States, is led by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who described these as some of the most extreme voices in Israeli politics. “I am deeply, deeply concerned about the trajectory of a new Israeli government with such voices in such significant leadership positions.”
In spite of the fact that these organizations, like J Street and the Reform movement, support a two-state solution with the Palestinians, their most recent statements have emphasized Israel’s democratic ideals. The Anti-Defamation League said that including the three far-right lawmakers in a government “runs counter to Israel’s founding principles.” The Federations called for “inclusive and pluralistic” policies.
Many in the American Jewish community disagree with Netanyahu because of his hardline policies toward the Palestinians, public disagreements with Barack Obama over promoting peace and the Iranian nuclear issue, and close ties to Donald Trump.
According to opinion surveys, about 75 percent of American Jews support the Democratic Party. These differences are even more pronounced among younger Jews in their 20s, who have a tendency to be more critical of the Israeli government and more sympathetic to the Palestinians than their Republican counterparts.
As Netanyahu gets ready to return to power after serving as opposition leader for a year and a half, this time flanked by some of the nation’s most extreme politicians, these trends seem destined to accelerate.
Netanyahu and his allies are still putting together their coalition even though they won the elections last month. But he has already made a number of agreements that abroad are raising red flags.
A powerful position that would put him in charge of Israel’s national police force has been offered to Itamar Ben-Gvir, a lawmaker well known for his anti-Arab animus and provocative acts. Included in this are the paramilitary border police, a group that has been actively engaged in combat with Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Ben-Gvir has called for deporting Arab legislators and branded them “terrorists.” He wants to protect soldiers from prosecution and give the death penalty to Palestinian attackers.
Additionally, Netanyahu has consented to appoint lawmaker Avi Maoz as a deputy minister in charge of the new “Jewish identity” authority and Israel’s educational system.
Maoz is renowned for his outspoken opposition to LGBTQ people as well as his insulting remarks directed at the Reform movement and other non-Orthodox Jews.
He opposes Pride parades, has compared homosexuals to pedophiles, and wants to legalize some forms of conversion therapy, a debunked technique used to try to alter LGBTQ children’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Israel’s “Law of Return,” which permits immigration to Israel for those with a single Jewish grandparent, is something Maoz wants to replace with a much more stringent definition of what it means to be a Jew. He also opposes non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism. This is an affront to liberal Jewish groups, which have fewer rigid views on Jewish identity.
Bezalel Smotrich, a settler leader who has made anti-gay and anti-Palestinian remarks in the past, has been given extensive control over settlement growth and Palestinian civilian life in the occupied West Bank.
Because they are back significant legal reforms that could halt or dismiss his corruption trial, Netanyahu has been kind to his allies. Such actions, according to critics, endanger Israel’s democratic foundations.