WASHINGTON — The United States said Wednesday it hoped officials in the next Israeli government would respect “the values of an open, democratic society” including minority rights, in striking comments as Benjamin Netanyahu looked set to return to power with the support of far-right allies.
The US relationship with Israel “has always been based on our shared interests, but importantly our shared values,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“We hope that all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups,” he said.
Price’s comments were likely a reference to Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit, an alliance of far-right parties which, according to a non-final vote count, is expected to win 14 seats in the next Knesset.
The party features firebrand politician Itamar Ben Gvir as no. 2 on its list.
Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir was convicted in the past of supporting a terror organization, though he insists he has become more moderate in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as the Kach founder.
“We have certain interests and values of our [own],” Price said. “You’ve heard us speak to the commitment we have to a future two-state solution and to equal measures of security, freedom, justice and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Price did not comment directly on the election, with only partial results released as of Wednesday afternoon.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has had a tense relationship with US Democrats.
“We’re just not going to speculate on a government that hasn’t emerged yet,” Price said. “But regardless, we have a close and enduring relationship with Israel.”
Meanwhile, an Axios report on Wednesday said that the Biden administration was likely to boycott Ben Gvir if he is appointed to a ministerial post as expected.
Citing two anonymous US officials, the report said the administration will work with Netanyahu’s expected future government, but may decide to refuse to deal directly with the far-right firebrand.
And former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said that a future Netanyahu government could have a “rocky” relationship with the Biden administration.
“The Biden administration doesn’t have a good history of relations with Netanyahu, and if he takes on these far-right extremists into his government and into his cabinet, then I think we’re in for a rocky road,” Indyk said in remarks broadcast on Channel 12.
Obama, Netanyahu and their respective staff quarreled regularly during their overlapping eight years in office, as Obama sought to advance diplomatic agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and between Iran and world powers — both of which were largely opposed by the then-premier. However, Biden’s ties with Netanyahu are warmer.