US Amb. Nides: I look forward to working with Israeli government

If Netanyahu opts for the homogeneous right-wing coalition, it would include the Religious Zionist Party and Itamar Ben-Gvir, with some fearing it could harm US ties.

 US Ambassador to the Israel Tom Nides on 9/28/2022. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
US Ambassador to the Israel Tom Nides on 9/28/2022.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides sent a message of reassurance to Israelis on Wednesday, amid concerns that Washington would be reticent to work with Jerusalem if there are cabinet ministers from the far right.

“It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted. I look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides

“It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted,” Nides tweeted. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

The ambassador also said he was “pleased” to see a high turnout in the election.

 Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir casts his vote at a voting station in Kiryat Arba, during the Israeli general elections, November 1, 2022.  (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90) Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir casts his vote at a voting station in Kiryat Arba, during the Israeli general elections, November 1, 2022. (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

Will the US not work with an Israeli government featuring Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir?

The results of Tuesday's election show that Netanyahu could build a right-wing and religious coalition with as many as 65 seats, or a smaller coalition with centrists, possibly from the National Unity Party if they break their promise not to sit in a government with him. If Netanyahu opts for the homogeneous right-wing coalition, it would include the Religious Zionist Party and Itamar Ben-Gvir

Ben-Gvir has been known for decades as an extremist and student of the ideas of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from running for the Knesset in the 1980s on grounds of racist incitement. He has called for “disloyal” Arabs and other Israelis to be deported and for death penalty for terrorists. Prior to entering the Knesset, he started a law firm focused on defending Israelis who assaulted Palestinians and Arabs.

Members of the US Congress warned Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in recent months that a government that includes Ben-Gvir as a minister would harm US-Israel ties.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a strong supporter of Israel, warned Netanyahu in a meeting in September that including “extremist and polarizing individuals like Ben-Gvir” would hurt relations between their countries.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) tweeted last month: 

“As Israel heads towards another election in November, I urge Israeli political leaders from all sides of the political spectrum to ostracize extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir whose outrageous views run contrary to Israel’s core principles of a democratic and Jewish state. These extremists undermine Israel’s interests and the US-Israel relationship, which I and my colleagues have worked to strengthen”

Rep. Brad Sherman

“These extremists undermine Israel’s interests and the US-Israel relationship, which I and my colleagues have worked to strengthen,” he added.

However, the topic did not come up in meetings with Biden administration officials during President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Washington last week, sources close to Herzog said.

When asked about the pressure, Netanyahu told haredi radio station Kol Barama last month: “We are in a democracy and we will decide who will be in the next government. I know how to stand up for us…and to say ‘no’ when necessary.”

"The undemocratic campaign that the Israeli Left is trying to run continues," said Otzma Yehudit in a statement. "We know very well who in Israel is trying to incite the Americans to get involved in Israeli democracy and what their interests are."

White House: “We look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values”

White House Spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre reacted on Wednesday to Israel’s election results. “We are pleased to see such a strong voter turnout for this election,” she said in her daily press briefing. “It is too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted,” she said. “I know we've all seen the exit polls. We look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price addressed several questions about the elections during the State Department daily briefing, and said that "it is far too early to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition," and that "this is something that will play out in Israel's own political system over the coming days."

"What I would say is that what makes this relationship so strong and what has made it so strong since Israel's independence to the present day is that this is a relationship that has always been based on our shared interest, but importantly our shared values," said Price. "And we hope that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of open democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups."

"We have certain interests and values of ours [such as] the commitment we have to a future two-state solution, and to equal measures of security, freedom, justice and prosperity, for Israelis and for Palestinians alike," Price added.    

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) released a statement as well, saying that the organization “respect and salute Israel’s vibrant democratic process, which allows all Israelis a voice and vote in forming their government.”

“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," JFNA said.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said in a statement that Israel is a vibrant democracy that includes and represents tremendous diversity of thought, belief, ethnicity, and faith.

“AJC’s advocacy will continue to strengthen Israel’s security and place in the world, enhance the deep bond between Israel and diaspora Jewry, and be centered on the shared values that unite Israel, the United States, and our democratic allies,” the statement reads.

“For AJC, and for many Jews in America, Israel, and around the world, past statements of some potential members of the governing coalition raise serious concerns about issues we prioritize: pluralism, inclusion, and increased opportunities for peace and normalization,” the organization said in a statement.

“Regardless of the composition of any governing coalition, we will continue to work with those in the Israeli government and in Israeli society who are committed to advancing democracy, inclusion, and peace, and to combating efforts to undermine these values.”

The leadership of Democratic Majority for Israel, which supports pro-Israel candidates said they were "deeply troubled" by Ben-Gvir and Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich's larger foothold in the Knesset.

"DMFI has repeatedly reiterated our belief that this party should have no place in Israel’s governing coalition. Most Israelis find their views abhorrent as they conflict with the country’s founding principles and the shared values that undergird the US-Israel relationship.

“Just as the US-Israel relationship remains strong despite antisemites, racists, insurrectionists, conspiracy theorists, and authoritarians in the US Congress, so too will the relationship survive having Kahanists in the Knesset — despite our strong objection to their presence," DMFI said. "We're heartened that the Biden administration has echoed this sentiment by making clear that the enduring US-Israel relationship will transcend whatever government is in power at any particular time."