Are the Americans meddling in Israeli elections? According to a report in the Thursday edition of Israel Hayom, officials from within the Biden administration as well as Jewish organizations in the United States have expressed their concern at the possibility that the head of the right-wing Otzma Yehudit party, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, will be appointed a minister in the next Israel government, if opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in forming a coalition following elections to be held in early November.
Recent polls have suggested the distinct possibility that the largest Israeli political party, the Likud, will manage to cobble together a coalition with at least the requisite 61 Knesset members. "The administration is monitoring developments with concern," one senior American official is quoted as saying, "and is very anxious regarding the possibility that the head of Otzma Yehudit will be appointed a minister in a future Israeli government."
He added that, "Of course we are following what's happening over there, but at the present stage it's too early to comment. However, if we reach the point where such things are under discussion, there's no doubt that the administration will clarify its position, and for us, that would be an immense problem."
The unnamed official further noted that opposition leader Netanyahu is well aware of the "problematic" aspects of appointing Ben-Gvir as a minister. "Anyone who has any sense realizes how problematic this is. Just look at this man's past history, the things he's done, the statements he's made. This isn't someone we want to see in government. Netanyahu is a wise and seasoned politician and he understands the ramifications of such a development. This has yet to be discussed with him since, as I said, it's still early days. But there's no doubt that he's aware of this."
Israel Hayom also quotes a senior official in an American-Jewish organization who was more explicit in his critique of Ben-Gvir, saying that incorporating him into a future government would create major problems for him and his colleagues. "Our efforts to defend Israel's interests are aimed at her being accorded the legitimacy to present her positions, and being given the benefit of the doubt even in cases where there may be concern that Israel erred in some way. However, if Ben-Gvir is appointed as a minister, this will strip us of our ability to defend Israel," the official, who is not considered to belong to the progressive wing of American Jewry, warned.
He added that, "In American terms, it would be like the Ku Klux Klan being part of the government. This just can't happen. We won't be able to stand up for Israel if it happens."
The Likud party has yet to respond to the reports. Meanwhile, Otzma Yehudit released a statement saying: "It appears that there's no limit to Foreign Minister Lapid's cynical exploitation of his position, now that we're seeing Lapid deciding to use lying briefings to drag the American administration into a place where they are intervening in the elections process in Israel. Lapid is destroying Israel's foreign relations and is giving up Israeli sovereignty in order to serve his own political ends."