By Mike Wagenheim

As the results of the Israeli general election became clearer on Wednesday, American Jewish organizations issued a range of reactions. Some continued with the message consistently disseminated by mainstream American Jewry—that Israel’s democracy was to be celebrated, the results respected, and that the U.S.-Israel relationship would remain strong regardless of the results. Others, though, began sounding the alarm over the effect that a government inclusive of hard-right elements could have on diaspora ties. 

“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,” read a statement from JFNA, which was first in line with a message on Wednesday. “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.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an election-night event on November 1, 2022, in Jerusalem, Israel. Exit polls showed Netanyahu holding a narrow lead late on Election Day, the country’s fifth in four years that will name a new Kesset, the 120-seat parliament. AMIR LEVY/GETTY IMAGES

The American Jewish Committee, now led by former Democratic congressman Ted Deutch, stated that it would work with any governing coalition that is “committed to advancing democracy, inclusion, and peace, and to combating efforts to undermine these values.” The AJC statement referred to the head of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, and the party’s second-in-command, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who are both assured high-profile ministerial roles should opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu form a government, which seems likely based on current election returns. Critics of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir say that their past inflammatory statements regarding Arabs and other minority groups could challenge the “shared interest and values” often touted by American Jewry and the U.S. government when citing their strong relationships with Israel.

Democratic Majority for Israel, led by Mark Mellman, a pollster for Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, said in a statement that it was “filled with respect and admiration for Israel’s robust democracy,” yet at the same time “deeply troubled by the fact that an anti-democratic and extremist party led by Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich will gain a larger foothold in the Knesset.” The DMFI release claimed that “most Israelis find [Smotrich’s and Ben-Gvir’s] views abhorrent as they conflict with the country’s founding principles and the shared values that undergird the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., listens to Dean Swihart, the husband of the late Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., play Amazing Grace on the saxophone, during a memorial service in the U.S. Capitols Statuary Hall to honor former members of Congress who passed away in the last year on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. Deutch implicitly showed distaste for two political figures who are expected be a part of Netanyahu’s new Israeli government.  TOM WILLIAMS/CQ-ROLL CALL, INC VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Zionist Organization of America, among the furthest to the right of American Jewish groups, issued a statement congratulating Netanyahu and “the entire pro-Zionist bloc.” ZOA chided the American and Israeli left for “falsely call[ing] the Religious Zionism Party ‘extreme,’” noting Ben-Gvir’s tempering of past remarks and the U.S. administration’s eagerness to work with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has supported terrorists and made a number of racist comments about Jews.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Union for Reform Judaism said it was “profoundly concerned” over the likely ascension of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir to the cabinet, and the risk that will entail to Israel’s democracy. URJ hammered at the two during the election campaign, and its Wednesday statement claimed, “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.”

(L to R) Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish power) party, and Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Religious Zionist Party, attend a rally with supporters in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on October 26, 2022. They are expected to occupy important ministerial positions should Netanyahu be announced as Israel’s new prime minister. GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the left-wing J Street lobby, which involves itself in Israeli matters, called the election results “deeply troubling for all who care about Israel and about liberal democracy globally.” Ben-Ami wrote 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.” 

The hard-left Americans for Peace Now issued the most aggressive response to the election results, stating it “will not meet with Ben-Gvir. We will not meet with Smotrich. We will not meet with representatives of a government in which they serve. We are saying it loud and clear, because now is not the time to pretend that everything is ok and this government will be fine.”

A Palestinian man reads the headlines of a local newspaper featuring the Israeli legislative as he waits at a watch repair shop in the occupied-West Bank city of Hebron, on November 2, 2022.  Veteran Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu appeared today on the cusp of returning to power, with initial election results showing his alliance with the extreme right taking a narrow lead. HAZEM BADER / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Notably, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations did not issue remarks on Wednesday. The umbrella organization of American Jewry was also critical of Ben-Gvir in 2019. As exit polls were released on Tuesday night, William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents, said that “I’ll go to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we will work with him. The American government will work with him. But I think it’s early in the process, and we’ll see how this plays out.”

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate.

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