Israeli Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks in Jerusalem on October 30. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images
The Biden administration is unlikely to engage with Jewish supremacist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is expected to be a top minister in a future Israeli government formed by Benjamin Netanyahutwo US officials told Axios.
Why is this important: No official decision has yet been made, but if the Biden administration boycotts Ben-Gvir, it will mark an unprecedented development that would likely have negative consequences for US-Israel relations.
- Israel’s far-right parties enjoyed unprecedented success in Tuesday’s election, with the Jewish supremacist Religious Zionism slate expected to win 14 seats – the most seats for the hard-right in Israel’s history.
Driving the news: Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism, said he wanted to be internal security minister, a post that would put him in charge of police and politics Israeli forces around holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque Complex.
- His political partner, Bezalel Smotrich, said he wanted to be defense minister, a role that also oversees Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and endorses settlement construction. Smotrich has a manufacturing history Racist Thoughts on the Arab citizens of Israel.
- Because Netanyahu will have to rely on the two far-right politicians to pass laws to stop his corruption trial, they will have a lot of leverage to get the positions and policies they want.
In the wings: US Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan raised the possibility of not working with Ben-Gvir and other right-wing extremists during their meetings last week with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
- US and Israeli officials told Axios Blinken and Sullivan that while the Biden administration will work with any elected government in Israel, it may find it difficult to work with specific politicians, but did not name them.
- The Biden administration is primarily concerned with the racist rhetoric and stances of Ben-Gvir and his party against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and against the Arab minority in Israel, the two US officials said.
- US officials told Axios that there was no formal policy decision on Ben-Gvir yet, but the administration has in recent weeks thought it would not work with him. It’s unclear if the administration plans to make the same decision about Smotrich or other members of their parties..
What they say : “We are delighted to see such high turnout in the Knesset elections,” a White House national security spokesman said.
- “It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes have been counted,” the spokesman added. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our common interests and values.”