Two major US Jewish groups on Wednesday congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following his election victory, with one of them also criticizing his campaign rhetoric.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said it congratulated Netanyahu and “applauds Israel’s democratic election process.”
“Mr. Netanyahu has been a steady, effective leader for the people of Israel and a responsible steward in protecting the country during the ongoing threats and challenges the nation has faced over the decades,” said OU President Mark Bane.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the US-based Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement that the elections highlighted divisions in Israel and that he worried the new government would deepen those cleavages, particularly by stoking discrimination against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and Arab Israelis.
Jacobs also spoke out against Netanyahu’s pre-election rhetoric.
“We congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and look forward to a productive dialogue with his new government, even as we continue to speak out for the enduring Jewish values of justice and equality,” Jacobs said in a statement.
“We are especially concerned by the statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu on the eve of the election calling for annexation of the West Bank Jewish settlements, a unilateral move that would make a two-state solution impossible and render the Jewish democratic State untenable,” Jacobs said.
“Israelis voted and as always, we applaud Israeli democracy and hope that campaign rhetoric fades away as the new government is formed,” he said.
Prior to the election, along with other liberal US Jewish leaders, Jacobs castigated Netanyahu for pushing for the inclusion of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party in the Israeli right.
“It’s not as if Otzma Yehudit is a conservative, right-wing party,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it’s the equivalent in the United States of the KKK being welcomed into the corridors of power. It’s not a close call if you’re an umpire of baseball. It’s not even near the plate.”
In July 2018, Jacobs spoke out against the contentious nation-state bill, which was spearheaded by Netanyahu, calling it “a sad and unnecessary day for Israeli democracy.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party and its fellow right-wing and religious parties emerged from Tuesday’s election in the best position to muster a coalition following a bitter and hard-fought campaign.
Both Likud and its rival Blue and White party were projected to receive 35 of the 120 Knesset seats, but Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White faction had no clear path to cobble together a government.