One of Israel’s biggest supporters in the Democratic Party warned opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu that establishing a coalition with the Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir could strain ties with the U.S., according to a report by Israeli news site Walla.
Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reportedly told Israel’s former prime minister that establishing a coalition with the far-right Religious Zionism list would have “negative consequences” on the relations between the close allies, two sources at the meeting told Walla’s Barak Ravid.
According to one of the sources, “everybody in the room could see how angry Bibi got.” Without the far-right roster, which is currently predicted to be the third largest party in Israel’s parliament, Netanyahu would be highly unlikely to secure a return to power.
In the early September meeting in Israel, Menendez did not relent over his “serious concerns” about Ben-Gvir, despite opposition from Netanyahu.
The hawkish New Jersey senator is considered one of Israel’s closest allies in the Democratic Party, and has been one of the foremost voices rallying against a return to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is second on the Religious Zionism list, is considered a disciple of the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who established the now-defunct Jewish Defense League, which was classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
Kahane also set up the ultranationalist Kach party in Israel, which secured one seat in the Knesset in the 1984 election, before being blocked from running in future elections due to racist incitement. One of their members Baruch Goldstein shot to death 29 Palestinian worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the single worst massacre carried out by an Israeli civilian.
Ben-Gvir has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Goldstein, infamously hanging a picture of him in his house before he took it down due to mounting pressure. The hardline platform of his Otzma Yehudit party, which is part of a joint ticket in Religious Zionism, calls for deportation of “disloyal” Arabs and the introduction of the death penalty against “terrorists.”
While Netanyahu’s spokesperson declined to comment, Ben-Gvir blamed Prime Minister Yair Lapid for the “cynical exploitation” of his party, “dragging even the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate to interfere in Israeli elections. Lapid is ruining Israel’s foreign relations.”