Gulf officials said to warn Israel far-right candidates could damage ties

Israeli diplomats told that lawmakers seen as racist entering Knesset could ‘hurt normalization,’ report says

Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction speaks at the Religious Zionism party headquarters in Modi'in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction speaks at the Religious Zionism party headquarters in Modi'in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Officials from Persian Gulf countries have expressed concern to Israel over far-right candidates being elected to the Knesset, according to a Wednesday report.

Gulf officials told Israeli diplomats that electing lawmakers who have expressed anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments was “likely to hurt normalization” between Israel and Arab states, the Kan public broadcaster reported, without identifying which countries the Gulf officials were from.

In recent days, the Gulf officials said they expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn racist statements from lawmakers, the report said.

Last year, Israel signed normalization agreements with the Gulf’s United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as with Morocco and Sudan.

Netanyahu made the historic agreements and his foreign policy a centerpiece of his election campaign.

Netanyahu engineered an alliance between the right-wing Religious Zionism party, the far-right candidate Itamar Ben Gvir and the anti-LGBTQ Noam faction to maximize the potential of right-wing votes, fearing the loss of a right-wing majority in the Knesset if Religious Zionism failed to pass the electoral threshold.

With 89 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday night, Religious Zionism appeared to have outperformed expectations and was expected to win 6 seats, putting Ben Gvir in the Knesset.

Jewish supremacist Ben Gvir is an admirer of the late extremist anti–Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was barred from serving in the Knesset for racism.

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty they wish to extend throughout the West Bank.

Ben Gvir was said to have once had a photo of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein in his living room.

In 2007, Ben Gvir was convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terror group after holding up signs reading, “Expel the Arab enemy” and “Rabbi Kahane was right: The Arab MKs are a fifth column.”

The tensions reported on Wednesday were not the first dust-up between Israel and the Gulf in recent weeks.

Last week, a UAE official appeared to criticize Netanyahu for his attempted use of Abu Dhabi as a stop on the campaign trail, saying the normalization deal was not made for the benefit of individual leaders. The planned visit, which Netanyahu canceled, sparked the first diplomatic tiff between the two countries since the normalization deal was signed.

“The UAE signed the Accords for the hope and opportunities they provide our people, not individual leaders,” the Emirati official said. “Personalizing and politicizing the Accords in this way demeans the historic achievement. The UAE will not go down that road.”

Another Emirati official said in pointed comments that the United Arab Emirates would not get involved in Israeli electioneering.

“From the UAE’s perspective, the purpose of the Abrahamic Accords is to provide a robust strategic foundation to foster peace and prosperity with the State of Israel and in the wider region,” tweeted Anwar Gargash, an adviser to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed.

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