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Herzog to US Jews: Respect Israel’s election results even if you don’t like them

Addressing Federations’ General Assembly, president acknowledges concerns over far-right parties rising to power, but says Israel-Diaspora ties can weather it

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

President Isaac Herzog announces special considerations for clemency in the lead up to Israel 75th year of independence, Jerusalem, Israel, October 2, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Illustrative. President Isaac Herzog announces special considerations for clemency in the lead up to Israel 75th year of independence, Jerusalem, Israel, October 2, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog on Monday urged American Jewish leaders to respect the results of the next day’s elections, though they “may or may not be to your liking.”

The president’s comments were seen as an implicit reference to the potential for a government that includes the far-right Religious Zionism party, a prospect that has many US Jewish groups concerned.

“Dear friends, tomorrow Israelis will go out to vote. I know the frequency of elections in Israel is somewhat unnerving, and I am aware of the questions posed in many Jewish communities around the world about the outcome of the elections,” Herzog said, in a video address to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, held this week in Chicago.

“The results may or may not be to your liking, but the vote of the Israeli people should be respected. Beyond this, I say to each and every one of you that the firm, vital connection between the State of Israel and North American Jewry will not, and should not, be compromised, whatever the results,” he said.

In recent weeks, American Jewish groups have raised concerns, including with Israeli officials, about the expected inclusion of Religious Zionism in any coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. Over the years, the party’s two main leaders — Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir — have repeatedly expressed views against Arabs, LGBTQ rights, and non-Orthodox Jews that are deeply at odds with the beliefs of predominantly liberal American Jews.

In his address to the more than 1,200 participants at the General Assembly, which brought together Jewish leaders from across the US, Herzog noted the unparalleled contribution that American Jews have made to the State of Israel over the years.

“For over a century, American Jewry has been voluntarily joining Zionist troopers — whether as aliyah activists or as IDF soldiers, or making the case for Israel — always providing funding to the most important and noble causes of the State of Israel and Israeli institutions. All of this has helped turn the Jewish, democratic State of Israel into the modern-day miracle which we can all see for ourselves,” he said.

Yet he also acknowledged that, in recent years, those ties have been somewhat strained.

“I never shy away from the fact that there are gaps between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad, and there is real work to be done,” Herzog said. “I have every confidence in the bonds we share, which run deeper than politics or shifting circumstances. We are all bigger than this.”

In his address, the president, who visited Washington, DC last week, also noted the “appalling rise of antisemitism” in the US, but said that US President Joe Biden was “adamant about combating this violent hatred, as a true, true friend.”

Israelis will go to the polls on Tuesday for the fifth time in less than four years. As was the case in each of the four previous elections, the race is a dead split between a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox coalition that supports Netanyahu and a broad coalition of left-wing, centrist and conservative parties that oppose Netanyahu’s return to power.

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