Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to dispatch a far-right lawmaker with a history of off-color remarks to serve as Israel’s consul general in New York, sparking worries that the move could damage Israel-Diaspora ties.
May Golan, a Likud MK previously aligned with the forerunner of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, 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 is pressuring Golan to forgo the ministerial position in order to instead become Israel’s next consul general in New York.
Netanyahu 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 from the centrist Blue and White party 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 the 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 prospect of Golan assuming the role elicited jeers from some government critics, including ex-diplomats who 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.”
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.”
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, trafficking in outrageous statements such as calling former prime minister Naftali Bennett a “suicide bomber.”
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 on Tuesday. She did not address the reports on social media, instead posting a picture of herself at the Queens gravesite of Lubavitch movement head Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a popular pilgrimage site for religious Jews and Israeli politicians seeking their support.
ביום ההולדת העברי שלנו – ידוע שיש לנו כח עצום לברך אחרים וכך בעצם בא לידי ביטוי הדיבר 'ואהבת לרעך כמוך'.
בביקורי בניו יורק, הגעתי במיוחד לקברו של הרבי מלובביץ׳ זצוק״ל, מנהיג ציבור עצום וענק בתורה, יחד עם הרב יצחק וולוביק, סמנכ״ל ׳אור אבנר׳ בארה״ב וחגית לבייב היקרה, מנכ״לית… pic.twitter.com/Yetog1oYro
— May Golan מאי גולן (@GolanMay) April 19, 2023
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 off to the political equivalent of Siberia, thereby heading off any possible challenge.