More US Jewish groups publicly fret over far-right showing in Israeli election

ADL, National Council of Jewish Women call out Religious Zionist members’ history of ‘racism, homophobia and misogyny’; across the pond, UK Jewry strikes a milder tone

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

From left to right: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, and Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich, in 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
From left to right: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, and Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich, in 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

More and more organizations have joined the chorus of American Jewish groups raising concerns over the presumed inclusion of the far-right Religious Zionism party in the next Israeli government following Tuesday’s elections.

In the aftermath of the elections, before the results were even finalized, US Jewish groups began issuing statements about the results, with some sticking to the more banal territory of praising Israeli democracy without discussing the results themselves, while more progressive organizations immediately expressed serious misgivings about past comments and actions by members of the Religious Zionism party against Arabs, the LGBT community and others.

As the final ballots were counted on Thursday, the results showed opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu with an easy path to the Prime Minister’s Office in a coalition with the Religious Zionism party and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which would give him a comfortable 64-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The strong showing of the Religious Zionism party — it will be the third-largest party in the next Knesset and the second-largest in the presumed coalition — will likely result in a senior ministerial post for party head Bezalel Smotrich, and a cabinet position for the party’s number-two, Ben Gvir, and critics worry it could also put other openly racist and homophobic politicians in positions of power, either in the cabinet or in top Knesset committees.

Throughout the day on Thursday, several more groups released statements about these results, some mild and some fiery.

The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly stressed that its “commitment to Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people remains strong regardless of the particular coalition that forms an Israeli government.”

In its statement, the Rabbinical Assembly said it also “committed to calling out hatred and supremacist ideologies wherever they manifest.” This appeared to be a reference to the Religious Zionism party, but the organization did not actually call it out.

“We respect Israel’s democratic process, and as we learn more about the new governing coalition we will determine the best ways to engage with the new government,” said the Assembly, which includes rabbis not only from the American United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism but from Conservative movements around the world.

We are deeply concerned by the statements and ideologies of the parties that appear to be forming the next coalition government

The Anti-Defamation League, which had raised concerns about the Religious Zionism party’s past rhetoric in the lead-up to the election, doubled down on its criticism after the results came in.

“We believe that including these far-right individuals and parties in an Israeli government would run counter to Israel’s founding principles, and impact its standing, even among its strongest supporters,” the organization said.

The ADL added that it “will not shirk from calling out expressions by, and policies of, the Israeli government and Israeli leaders that are hateful, racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and anti-democratic.”

The 130-year-old National Council of Jewish Women released a fierce response to the election results on Thursday night, calling out the party by name.

“We support the electoral process in Israel and respect the outcome of its elections. And we are deeply concerned by the statements and ideologies of the parties that appear to be forming the next coalition government — particularly the anti-LGBTQ+, anti-women and anti-Arab rhetoric from the parties that make up the Religious Zionism Slate, including Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, the Noam party and the Religious Zionism party,” the organization’s CEO Sheila Katz said.

“NCJW will always stand up for justice, democracy and diplomacy, and we refuse to normalize racism, incitement or discrimination,” she said.

In the UK, the British Board of Deputies umbrella group released a notably mild comment about the election and the far-right party’s showing.

“We are gravely concerned that the potential government will include individuals whose stated views and actions are in contrast to the tolerant and inclusive values of our community. We look forward to continuing working with those in the new Israeli government and in civil society who seek to advance peace, security, prosperity and fairness,” the Board said.

This statement was a far cry from the furious public denunciation of Smotrich that the organization issued earlier this year when he made a visit to the UK, in which the group called his views “despicable” and instructed him, in Hebrew, to “get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever.”

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