Jewish Diaspora groups blast Ben-Gvir, while others remain silent on election

In the election that just happened in Israel, many Jewish organizations decided to remain silent, while others expressed their concern.

 Itamar Ben-Gvir gestures following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election, at his party headquarters in Jerusalem November 1, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Itamar Ben-Gvir gestures following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election, at his party headquarters in Jerusalem November 1, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)

Israeli-Diaspora relations are directly affected by the Jewish state, and therefore Diaspora Jews usually respond quickly to the outcome of its elections or the establishment of a new government.

Many Jewish organizations, however, have remained silent.

But many have also spoken out against the possibility that Itamar Ben-Gvir, who ran with the far-right Religious Zionist Party may be a senior minister in a Netanyahu-led coalition.

A joint response from the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis and the American Conference of Cantors, said they “affirm Israel’s robust democracy, reflected in the more than 71% turnout for the fifth election in four years.”

They stressed that they “love Israel” and are “committed to the vision of Israel as a democratic, pluralistic Jewish state.” In addition, they congratulated Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, despite having a very complex relationship with him, as he wouldn’t meet with them in the last years of his previous tenure.

 L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

“As Netanyahu assembles his coalition, we are profoundly concerned about promises of cabinet positions he has made to [RZP heads] Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. 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.”

The Reform leaders suggested that “including Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in the government will likely jeopardize Israel’s democracy and will force the country to reckon with its place on the world stage.” Additionally, this sort of government “will almost certainly lead to challenging moments in the US-Israel relations” and will “be painful for Jews worldwide who will not see the Israel they love and believe reflected in these leaders, nor in the policies they pursue.”

Nevertheless, they stressed that even though they will have issues with the expected right-wing government, their “commitment to Zionism is unwavering.” The leaders added that they will “take some comfort,” knowing that their colleague, Reform Rabbi and Labor MK Gilad Kariv, “will remain a strong voice for democracy and pluralism as a member of the Knesset.”

The Board of Deputies (BoD), the umbrella organization for UK Jewry said, “while we congratulate Netanyahu on his election victory, we hope that the incoming government will work on behalf of all its citizens as well as striving to advance regional peace.”

“We are gravely concerned that the potential government will include individuals whose stated views are actions in contrast to the tolerant and inclusive values of our community.”

The Board of Deputies

What are the reactions from Jewish organizations?

T’RUAH a progressive left-wing rabbinic human rights organization that claims to represent more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America, was less diplomatic in its reaction, condemning what it calls “the mainstream acceptance of the terrorist organizations that Ben-Gvir and others represent,” and “cautioned what this change in government could mean for the lives and safety of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

“With his record of hate speech and violence, coupled with his strong anti-Arab racist beliefs, Ben-Gvir has no place in the political mainstream,” the group’s CEO Rabbi Jill Jacobs said.

“Although T’ruah has been sounding the alarm about Ben-Gvir and others in his party for years, there has been a remarkable lack of public concern among American Jewish organizations about his religious-Zionist slate, which traffics in racism and homophobia, advocates the deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel and incites violence against Palestinians and Israeli leftists.”

The American Jewish Committee responded more subtly: “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.”

Still, the committee stressed that “past statements of some potential members of the governing coalition raise serious concerns” about issues the organization prioritizes, such as “pluralism, inclusion and increased opportunities for peace and normalization.”

THE JEWISH Federations of North America, the largest umbrella organization of American Jewry, was probably the organization that responded to the elections in Israel most generally, without any criticism or fear for the future: “The JFNA 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.”

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council did the same: “AIJAC offers its congratulations to Netanyahu and wishes him all success as he begins the process of seeking to negotiate with potential coalition partners to obtain a Knesset majority and establishing a cabinet to govern Israel on behalf of all its citizens, as he pledged after the election,” executive director Colin Rubenstein said.

“One concerning issue in this election has been the apparent electoral success of far-right extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir and his party, running as part of the larger [RZP] list,” he said.

“Ben-Gvir is a former disciple of the late Jewish racist, extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane – and while he has somewhat softened his anti-democratic and anti-Arab rhetoric in recent months, his rise is nonetheless genuinely worrisome for anyone who cares about the future of Israel’s vibrant democracy, multicultural society and liberal values.”

Zionist Organization of America national president Morton A. Klein said, “It is wrong for the American and Israel Left to falsely call the Religious Zionist Party ‘extreme,’ and that the Biden administration is even reportedly considering wrongfully refusing to work with democratically elected Religious Zionist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. Yet Biden works with Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas, who pays Arabs to murder Jews; names schools, streets and sports teams after Jew-killers; calls Jews ‘filthy’; and says no Jew will be allowed in their state.”

According to the right-wing group’s leader, “Ben-Gvir is now a 46-year-old civil rights attorney and repeatedly and clearly renounced certain views that he held when he was a teenager decades ago.”