NEW YORK — Likud lawmaker May Golan said Thursday she will work with all Jewish organizations as Israel’s consul general in New York, if she takes up an offer to serve in the high-profile diplomatic post.
Her comments came after some Jewish leaders and former diplomats expressed concern the firebrand right-wing lawmaker could harm Israel-Diaspora ties.
The far-right Tel Aviv native first made a name for herself campaigning for the expulsion of African asylum-seekers and is known for her brash style and outrageous statements, such as calling former prime minister Naftali Bennett a “suicide bomber.”
“I am very flattetrd [sic] to be considered for the post of Israel’s consul general in NY,” Golan said. “I want to assure everyone that if I will be appointed, I will represent 100% the mainstream policies of PM Netanyahu and the Likud party to which I belong.”
“I am completely committed to the unity of the Jewish people, and that is the exact policy that I will follow,” Golan said in a post on Twitter. “If appointed, I will work with the leaders of all the Jewish organizations — as part of the effort to strengthen the great partnership between Israel and the American Jewish communities.”
Golan’s nomination by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stirred concern among Israeli and US leaders that the lawmaker will not be welcomed by mainstream Jewish groups in New York due to past incendiary comments.
A US State Department spokesperson criticized past statements from Golan on asylum seekers during a Thursday press briefing, without directly censuring her expected appointment.
“We would condemn such kind of rhetoric and believe that such kind of language is particularly damaging when it’s amplified in leadership positions,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, slammed Netanyahu for offering Golan the position.
“We need a thoughtful, diplomatic, morally credible new consul general in NY. May Golan is none of those,” Jacobs said on Twitter. “Her brand of Zionism is antithetical to the majority of our community. She will harm not help Israel’s cause.”
T’ruah, a progressive rabbinical human rights group, said, “Golan and her far-right cronies are not welcome here.”
“From her affection for violent anti-Arab radicals to her hatred of feminists to her racist and Islamophobic treatment of African asylum seekers, Golan’s politics could not be further from that of most Jewish New Yorkers,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah’s CEO, told The Times of Israel. “Netanyahu’s anti-democracy, pro-occupation agenda is already alienating both the American government and American Jews, and sending Golan to represent Israel will only widen that gulf.”
Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, applauded Golan’s nomination, calling her “an extraordinary Israeli patriot.”
“She will inject a dose of reality to the media in NY and America as well as to the Jewish organizational and political leaders,” Klein told The Times of Israel. “She is exactly what’s needed here in NY and will become one of the finest Consul Generals we’ve ever had.”
Ex-diplomats have also warned the move could harm ties between Israel and US Jews.
“The Consul General in NYC must be a top-notch diplomat,” tweeted former Israeli ambassador to India Daniel Carmon. “No party politics can justify such a nomination.”
Carmon was among a group of former envoys to sign a letter on Thursday decrying the potential appointment. It would be an “abandonment of one of the most important arenas for Israeli diplomacy,” wrote the group, calling Golan “a divisive and racist” figure and “the opposite of what Israel needs in such an important region.”
“The holder of the position must, as in the past, be of first-class ‘caliber’ and be chosen based on abilities and not as part of a political maneuver,” wrote the signatories who included Colette Avital, a former consul general of Israel in New York and ambassador to Portugal, Jeremy Issacharoff, former ambassador to Germany and high-ranking diplomat at the embassy in Washington, and Daniel Shek, former ambassador to France.
Israel’s consul general in New York, they said, is a “senior position [that] includes representing Israel in the states of New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of Connecticut, in addition to the areas of greater New York, a bastion of liberalism, the capital of media, the economy, and the center of Jewish organizations.”
“The time has also come for the politicians to stop playing political appointments in the foreign service as playing cards. Let’s hope the appointment does not come to fruition,” they wrote.
Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk wrote that Golan’s nomination, if it occurs, “will be seen by the American Jewish community as a sign of utmost disrespect.”
Golan had been promised to be appointed to a ministerial-level position in charge of advancing the status of women in society, but on Wednesday, a scheduled Knesset vote to confirm her appointment to the cabinet was dropped from the agenda at the last minute.
According to several reports in Hebrew-language media, the vote was nixed because Netanyahu was pressuring Golan to forgo the ministerial position in order to instead become the next consul general in New York.
Netanyahu’s office confirmed on Thursday that he has offered her the consul general post, citing “her excellent explanatory abilities in English.”
Asaf Zamir, a former MK for the centrist Blue and White party who was appointed to the role by the previous government, resigned from the post last month in protest of the ruling coalition’s judicial overhaul effort.
Though less influential than Israel’s missions to Washington or the United Nations, the New York Consulate is still considered among Israel’s most important postings, responsible for managing ties over a four-state geographic area that is home to the largest Jewish community anywhere in the world outside Israel.
Golan would likely be the most right-wing lawmaker to take the diplomatic position, given her ties to Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party.
In 2013, Golan ran on the list of the Otzma L’Yisrael party, a precursor to Otzma Yehudit that failed to make it into the Knesset.
She more recently joined the Likud party, serving briefly in the Knesset in 2019 before re-entering parliament in 2020 and remaining ever since.
The Tel Aviv native first made a name for herself campaigning for the expulsion of African asylum-seekers, an issue she has continued to champion despite accusations of racism. In 2012, she sarcastically told a rally in South Tel Aviv that if her claim that migrants were raping and killing Israelis was racist, then “I am proud of being a racist.”
She has promoted the image of herself as a far-right rabble-rouser that refuses to be muzzled. In 2021, she told Israel Hayom that she did not plan to moderate her speech as a lawmaker, labeling herself “the mother of politically incorrect.”
News of the possible appointment came as Golan was already visiting New York, where she toured the UN and visited the Queens gravesite of the Chabad-Lubavitch spiritual leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a popular pilgrimage site for religious Jews.
Golan was initially designated a minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office when the dust settled from a furious scrum within the Likud to secure cabinet posts or other sweetheart jobs as the government was formed, but was promised a promotion to the position of minister for the advancement of the status of women. The position would have tasked her with eradicating violence against women, promoting gender equality, fighting sexual harassment and more.
That appointment had also sparked protests from women’s rights activists who said she has served as an obstacle to gender equality, pointing to her votes against bills for tracking domestic abuse offenders and storing forensic samples in sexual assault cases.
The surprise about-face sparked speculation that Netanyahu’s move was designed to ease pressure within Likud by breaking apart a hardline faction led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, which has grown increasingly influential in recent months as it pushes ahead with the government’s controversial judicial overhaul program.
The prime minister, who has led Likud for the past 20 years, has been accused in the past of maneuvering to secure diplomatic appointments for potential rivals in order to ship them abroad.