'His outrageous views run contrary to your core principles'

2nd pro-Israel congressman urges Jerusalem to ‘ostracize’ Ben Gvir ahead of election

Going further than Menendez, who cautioned Netanyahu behind closed doors against normalizing Kahane disciple, Brad Sherman publicly warns far-right MK will undermine bilateral ties

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Otzma Yehudit leader and MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to students at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, September 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit leader and MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to students at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, September 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A second pro-Israel Democrat in the US Congress has issued a warning to Jerusalem against allowing far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir to make further political gains after the upcoming election.

Brad Sherman, a long-time pro-Israel stalwart in the Democratic party, took to Twitter Monday to publicly warn Israeli lawmakers against further legitimizing Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir is No. 2 on the Religious Zionism list that is projected to win between 12 and 14 seats in the November 1 election, positioning himself to receive a senior cabinet posting if opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu manages to form the kind of hard-right, religious coalition on which he has been campaigning.

Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir has also been convicted on terror charges, though he also insists he has moderated in recent years and does not hold to the same beliefs as the Kach founder. Unlike Kahane, Ben Gvir says he doesn’t support expelling all Arabs from Israel, rather only “terrorists” or those he deems “disloyal.”

Analysts have pointed out though that he regularly refers to many Arab public figures with no history of terror-related activities, including elected lawmakers and party leaders, as “terrorists.”

“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,” Sherman wrote.

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

Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat of California, talks to reporters in a basement corridor at the Capitol in Washington, January 4, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sherman’s remarks came days after Axios reported that Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez issued a similar warning regarding Ben Gvir during a closed meeting with Netanyahu last month. In a bid to improve his chances of returning to power, the Likud leader orchestrated a merger deal last year that ensured the entry of Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset.

Netanyahu said ahead of previous elections that he did not believe the extremist Ben Gvir was fit to be a minister. However, without Ben Gvir’s support, Netanyahu likely has little to no chance of leading the next government. The Religious Zionism MK has reportedly been offered a senior ministerial position if a Netanyahu-led government is established.

Menendez raised his concerns over Netanyahu’s cooperation with far-right parties, specifically mentioning Otzma Yehudit and its leader Ben Gvir, a US official said, confirming the Axios report.

“The senator told Netanyahu he needed to realize the composition of such a coalition could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington, which has been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between the US and Israel,” one of the sources cited by Axios said.

The warning “pissed off” Netanyahu, the US official said.

Ben Gvir responded to the report by blaming Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also serves as foreign minister, for “destroying” Israel’s foreign relations, accusing him of “dragging” Menendez into interfering in the Israeli election process.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the CARES Act on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

Until it began to harm him politically, Ben Gvir also kept on a wall of his Hebron home a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. During a recent visit to a high school in the central city of Ramat Gan, Ben Gvir said he no longer considers Goldstein a “hero.”

Ben Gvir frequently stirs up friction between Jewish and Arab Israelis and was reportedly accused by the national police chief of abetting the worst inter-communal violence in recent Israeli history in May of last year.

He has additionally allied with some of Israel’s most extremist Jewish movements and activists — including Lehava, a Jewish supremacist anti-miscegenation group, and the virulently homophobic Noam organization.

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