Major US Jewish group interferes in Israeli politics, begs Netanyahu to snub Ben-Gvir

“To have a person in the government who has made racist statements and supported violence in the past is very concerning,” said a senior Conservative rabbi.

By Adina Katz, World Israel News

An umbrella organization representing American Conservative Jews penned an open letter to Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, pleading with him not to appoint Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir as a minister in his upcoming government.

“We have always been proud of Israel and plan to continue to be so forever (every day, every moment, every hour),” read a letter from the Mercaz Olami group, which serves as the official representative of the Conservative movement in Zionist settings, according to Times of Israel.

“This very eternal pride causes us to firmly turn to the next prime minister of Israel with a request not to appoint Itamar Ben Gvir to a ministerial position in the new government. He has been convicted of criminal acts including incitement of racism, possession of propaganda material of a terrorist organization and support of a terrorist organization.”

While some American Jewish groups have expressed reservations about Ben Gvir and the Religious Zionism party, which emerged as the third-largest faction in the Knesset following last week’s election, diaspora Jewish organizations have generally resisted directly commenting on internal Israeli politics.

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In an unprecedented move, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, told TOI that his group was “very worried” about Ben Gvir’s presence in the next coalition and warned that his inclusion could damage ties with the diaspora.

“The relationship between America and Israel… is founded on shared values, including a commitment to democracy and human rights and the fight against racism and antisemitism,” Blumenthal said. “To have a person in the government who has made racist statements and supported violence in the past is very concerning.”

Blumenthal acknowledged that he and other Conservative leaders have previously refrained from commenting on domestic politics in Israel but Ben Gvir’s possible appointment to a ministerial position was reflective of an overall shift to the right among the Israeli public.

“Our perception is that this is at a different level and that this represents a change in Israel’s overall society and approach, and that needs to be addressed,” he said.

During the 2021 election cycle, Netanyahu dismissed the idea of Ben Gvir becoming a minister. Shortly before the 2022 election, he walked back his statement and said that Ben Gvir “of course” could serve in such a position.

While Netanyahu has kept mum until now regarding a ministerial portfolio for Ben Gvir, the Religious Zionism MK has publicly lobbied to be appointed Interior Security Minister, which would put him in charge of domestic policing.

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Ben Gvir has repeatedly stated that his priority is keeping Israeli citizens safe from terror, and that his policies are not fundamentally racist.

“Our Tanach [Bible] teaches us that we are from here, we have come back to our land. I am not a racist, I do not hate Arabs, I hate terrorists,” he recently told JNS.

Ben Gvir added that the media obsession with his alleged racism stems from a desire to “to shoot the messenger, instead of allowing discourse on serious issues facing the Jewish state. We have a major Jihad problem on so many levels that our political leaders and security experts refuse to deal with head-on.”

After a string of attacks on IDF soldiers shortly before the election, Ben Gvir pledged to “act against those who throw Molotov cocktails or stones and put at risk prison guards, women and do everything to jeopardize the system.”

“It’s about time that the soldiers of the IDF and the policemen get support and backing,” he added. “It’s about time we go back to being the owners of this country.”