Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir pushed back Tuesday on criticism by New Jersey Senator and veteran Democratic lawmaker Robert Menendez, dismissing accusations of racism.
According to a report last week by Axios, Senator Menendez warned Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu last month not to include “right-wing extremists” in any future coalition government.
Menendez specifically demanded that Netanyahu not include MK Ben-Gvir in a new government, adding that doing so would harm relations between Israel and the US.
Two sources familiar with the meeting said that during the September 5th meeting, Menendez "raised his concerns" about Netanyahu's political partners, specifically mentioning Otzma Yehudit and Ben-Gvir and saying that he has "serious concerns" regarding a possible partnership between Netanyahu and "extremist and polarizing individuals like Ben-Gvir" in a potential government.
Ben-Gvir responded Tuesday morning, issuing a statement rejecting Menendez’s claims, declaring himself an “anti-racist.”
“I am deeply concerned by reports that Senator Menendez has aimed incorrect and mistaken criticisms at the millions of Israelis who will soon vote in favor of a center-right government and me personally.”
Lauding Menendez as a "friend of Israel," Ben-Gvir declared that his party is dedicated to combating "racist antisemitism".
“Everyone knows that the Senator is a true friend of Israel and a champion of the US-Israel relationship, and more importantly, he is a man of integrity.”
“Therefore, my sense is that he would not have made the statements reported had he been correctly informed of the positions I hold, as well as those I do not hold.”
“Those who are enemies of a strong Israel seek to besmirch me by calling me and my party racist. But the truth is that we’re anti-racist - we are fighting against the racist antisemitism fomenting within the boundaries of our homeland."
“We believe that Israel needs to uproot terror organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, just as the United States defeated Al Qaida. Like millions of Americans, we believe that peace comes through strength and that Israel’s policies should be based upon the firm enforcement of our right to sovereignty and self-defense.”
“In the next government, I will work to give Israel’s soldiers the confidence to fight Jihadist terror without rules of engagement that would endanger their own safety and lessen the effectiveness of their efforts. I hope to shape a justice system that works for all law-abiding citizens and residents - including those living under the corrupt Palestinian Authority which systematically represses Palestinian society while preaching Israel-hate as a matter of course.”
“In a press conference this week Binyamin Netanyahu put the critique against me in proportion: ‘I would have expected [the Americans] to warn us of a government that depends on the Muslim Brotherhood who support terrorism.’ Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, the Zionist slate I am running with, the Religious Zionist party, has the broad support of Israelis all over the country, young and old and with diverse backgrounds who are looking for a future based on realism and solutions.”
“Indeed, polls show us being the third largest party in the upcoming elections for this reason. I, therefore, encourage our American allies to stand with Israel as we fight for the shared values of peace and freedom and to respect the independence of each other’s democratic process.”