After claim that possible new Israel govt will damage relations with US, Sen. Menendez stays silent – Yahoo News

Posted By on October 10, 2022

JERUSALEM, Israel A controversial Israeli politician this week fired back at a report claiming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said that his potential role in a new Israeli coalition government would damage U.S. relations with the Jewish state.

The news website Axios reported that during a Sept. 5 meeting between Menendez and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the New Jersey lawmaker said he has "serious concerns" about a coalition government with "extremist and polarizing individuals like [Itamar] Ben-Gvir." Israelis go to the polls next month.

According to the Axios article, a source said, "People who were in the room saw how p---ed off Bibi [Netanyahu] got" in response to Menendezs comments.

The controversial far-right Israeli politician in question is Itamar Ben-Gvir. His party has been gaining in the polls and could finish as high as third or fourth place in the upcoming election.

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In a statement to Fox News Digital,Ben-Gvir,the leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party said, "I am deeply concerned by reports that Senator Menendez has aimed incorrect and mistaken criticisms at the millions of Israelis who will soon vote in favor of a center-right government and me personally."

He continued, "Everyone knows that the senator is a true friend of Israel and a champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and more importantly, he is a man of integrity. Therefore, my sense is that he would not have made the statements reported had he been correctly informed of the positions I hold, as well as those I do not hold."

Ben-Gvir has faced criticism for tearing the Cadillac emblem off of Yitzhak Rabin the then-Israeli prime ministers car in 1995 and stating,"We reached Rabins car, we will get to Rabin, too." Israeli extremist Yigal Amir, then 25, assassinated Rabin in the same year.

Critics have painted Ben-Gvir as a right-wing extremist for his connections and support of far right-wing elements in Israel, including the late Rabbi Meir Kahane whose ultra-nationalist party was outlawed from running in subsequent elections for inciting racism against Arabs. Kahane was assassinated by a terrorist in Manhattan in 1990.

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In a recent interview with the Associated Press Shuki Friedman, an expert on Israels far right described Ben-Gvir as being "a populist demagogue he interviews well, he is good on camera, and he has had plenty of screen time that has given him legitimacy," noted Friedman of the Jewish People Policy Institute.

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Israeli right-wing Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Ben-Gvir told Fox News Digital, "The enemies of a strong Israel besmirch me, calling me and my party racist. But the truth is that we are anti-racist; we are fighting against the racist antisemitism fomenting within the boundaries of our homeland. We believe that Israel needs to uproot terror organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, just as the United States defeated al Qaeda. Like millions of Americans, we believe that peace comes through strength and that Israels policies should be based upon the firm enforcement of our right to sovereignty and self-defense."

In response to the warnings from Menendez,Netanyahu said at a press conference last week in Tel Aviv, "I would have expected them to warn us of a government that depends on the Muslim Brotherhood who support terrorism and Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh. Odeh said that [Hassan] Nasrallah (Hezbollah) is a hero, after that is it any wonder that Lapid ran to sell him the gas of the citizens of Israel?"

Netanyahu was referring to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid who is the midst of working through a controversial gas deal with Lebanon. Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh are Israeli Arab politicians.

A spokesperson for Menendez declined to comment in response to a Fox News Digital press query. The U.S. State Department did not answer a media query.

However, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who is considered pro-Israel, tweeted, "As Israel heads toward another election in November, I urge Israeli political leaders from all sides of the political spectrum to ostracize extremists like Ben-Gvir whose outrageous views run contrary to Israels core principles of a democratic and Jewish state."

While supporters of Ben-Gvir claim he has reformed his ways, his appeal has not spilled over into the center of Israeli politics, according to professor Tamar Hermann, a senior researcher for the Israeli Democracy Institute. "He [Ben-Gvir] is still a pariah in the center [and] on the left." Hermann also noted that he was legitimized byNetanyahu and other politicians on the right.

Hermann said Netanyahu helped to mainstream Ben-Gvir during the last election by pushing the idea that "this man can become a member of the Knesset," and this legitimization by the former prime minister was "critical in the eyes of all people who vote." "Ben-Gvir is not at the far end of Israeli politics because of the radicalization that has happened" after May 2021, said Hermann.

During May 2021, Hamas terrorists launched rockets into the Jewish state while Arabs rioted in Israeli cities, which included arson attacks on synagogues. According to Hermann, the events of May 2021 sparked a radicalization amongIsraeliArabs and Israeli Jews.

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Ben-Gvir has significant support among the ultra-orthodox, mainly Sephardi voters, who are "very enthusiastic" about his message that "appeals to chauvinistic views of Jews in the state of Israel," said Hermann. "They are looking for a strong leader."

In late August polls from Israel's threemajor TV networks revealed that Ben-Gvir's partycould secure between eight and nine seats in Israel's parliament if elections were conducted straight away. The dramatic rise of Ben-Gvir in the election process has not rolled back since the August poll, according to Israeli public opinion experts like Hermann.

Bezalel Smotrich, the chief of the Religious Zionist Party, which formed a voting block with Ben-Gvir, told the Israelimedia that Ben-Gvir has positioned himself to be a senior minister in the next government.

"I hope we will be the third-largest party in the state of Israel," said Smotrich.

An election campaign poster in 2021 for far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) with images of party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir behind Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When asked about the reported row Yishai Fleisher, Ben-Gvir's spokesman for English-speaking media told FoxNews Digital, "I think a strong, Jewish, proud, national, patriotic Israel is good for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Everybody understands the challenges of jihadism and erosion of national identity.That is what Ben-Gvir represents, and the people of Israel think that way."

Fleisher said Menendezs concerns are not justified: "Moreover, it does not feel quite right that there is this air of meddling. What will help is mutual support, mutual trust and mutual respect for each others democratic processes. Just like Israel wants to see a strong U.S., I am sure the American people want to see a strong Israel."

Fleisherwho is also spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, a city close to where Ben Gvir resides, also said that his candidate had later apologized for the Rabin incident, adding that Ben-Gvir has matured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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After claim that possible new Israel govt will damage relations with US, Sen. Menendez stays silent - Yahoo News

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