By Ruthie Blum
(OCTOBER 6, 2022 / JERUSALEM POST) U.S. House Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) took to Twitter on Monday to “urge Israeli political leaders from all sides of the political spectrum to ostracize extremists like Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose outrageous views run contrary to Israel’s core principles of a democratic and Jewish state.”
These “extremists,” he added, “undermine Israel’s interests and the U.S.-Israel relationship, which I and my colleagues have worked to strengthen.”
Sherman was the second “pro-Israel Democrat” to issue a warning against Otzma Yehudit leader MK Ben-Gvir. According to a report earlier this week in Axios, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said something similar last month in a private meeting with opposition leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.
“The senator told Netanyahu he needed to realize [that] the composition of …[a] coalition with the likes of Ben-Gvir] could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington, which has been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” a source cited by the outlet revealed.
As No. 2 on the Religious Zionist Party list, which most polls are predicting will garner some 12-13 mandates in the November 1 Knesset election, Ben-Gvir is guaranteed to retain his seat in Israel’s parliament. More significantly, he could end up with a ministerial portfolio in the next government if Netanyahu is able to form a coalition.
With friends like these, the Jewish state doesn’t need the rest of the increasingly left-wing Democratic Party’s actual enemies. Leaving aside the chutzpah of American politicians basically demanding that Israel cancel an Israeli counterpart whose views they don’t share, the idea that the elevation of a certain candidate could and would damage the country’s ties with America is as outrageous as it is disingenuous.
Menendez’s moaning that it “could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington” is particularly laughable. As Israel’s failed outgoing government illustrates, ideological schisms do not allow for the crossing of aisles without one side utterly capitulating to the other on matters of import.
The same applies to Capitol Hill, as Sherman and Menendez know but don’t wish to acknowledge. The very fact that their status as staunch allies of the Jewish state is highlighted says it all. The opposite is the case with Republicans, among whom being critical of Israel is a rarity.
The Left on both sides of the ocean blames Netanyahu for this phenomenon, though it’s been unfolding since long before he first became prime minister in 1996. It’s one of the mantras chanted by Israel’s “anybody but Bibi” crowd. Of course, many in this category don’t give a hoot about “bipartisan” support, since they feel about Republicans the way they do about Ben-Gvir.
Rather than accept the logic of like-minded people, wherever they reside, possessing common political penchants, U.S. Democrats and members of the comparable Israeli camp continue to cling to an outdated paradigm because it serves their purposes. Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, for instance, pretend – or imagine – that they are better at ingratiating themselves with American officials than Netanyahu ever was.
This is ridiculous. It’s true, however, that they are closer in outlook to the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden than Bibi was to that of former president Barack Obama. He had no problem with the White House when it was occupied by Donald Trump.
Lapid Not Given the Red Carpet in D.C.
Lapid, on the other hand, isn’t given the red carpet in D.C. even while signaling in word and deed that he’s taking Israel in a direction palatable to Democrats. The latest example is the dangerous, U.S.-brokered maritime deal with Lebanon, an enemy country controlled by the Iranian proxy terrorist organization Hezbollah.
It’s a pact with the devil that Lapid and Gantz keep insisting is great for regional security and prosperity. Netanyahu and his supporters know better. So, by the way, does Ben-Gvir.
Which brings us back to the Israeli firebrand bane of the Left who’s causing Sherman and Menendez to worry about the future of the fragile U.S.-Israel bond. Where was their apoplexy last year, when the United Arab List (Ra’am) – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Southern Islamic Movement – enabled the anti-Bibi bloc to form a coalition?
Where Were They When Ra’am Enabled the Anti-Bibi Bloc to Form a Coalition?
In his column on Tuesday, titled “Americans prefer Arab extremists to Jewish ones in Israeli governments,” JNS Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Tobin pointed out the hypocrisy.
“Even if you think, as many understandably do, that the Knesset would be better off without Ben-Gvir in it, Israelis need not atone for the sin of voting for him in the expectation that he will be an uncompromising defender of Jewish rights,” he wrote. “The message to American critics of Israel should be clear: If you thought the inclusion in Israel’s governing coalition of an Islamist party that openly advocates for the end of Zionism and the Jewish state in its platform was a good idea, then you have no business lecturing anyone about Ben-Gvir.”
It’s possible that Sherman and Menendez didn’t read the Southern Islamic Movement’s charter, which says that Israel “was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations].”
Nor did the Israelis who championed Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas for joining the last coalition bother to peruse the document. Instead, they accepted his claim that he no longer considered Israel illegitimate. They also believed the religious Muslim when he explained that he wanted to break from the tradition of his fellow Arabs in the Knesset and prioritize the needs of his constituents over the Palestinians’ war on Israel.
Ben-Gvir, an Orthodox Jew, isn’t given the same benefit of the doubt in those circles, no matter how often or loudly he distances himself from his radical past. This he has been doing regularly in TV, radio and print interviews, as well as during what was hyped as a controversial appearance on September 6 at the Blich High School in Ramat Gan.
Blich’s student body – once deemed to reflect a pretty accurate cross-section of Israeli society – holds mock ballots ahead of every Knesset election. Though its results have been way off base for quite a while, the tradition of using the outcome as a gauge remains intact.
Various party leaders, therefore, turned up last month to “campaign.” Hearing that Ben-Gvir would be among them spurred the woke-eratti to appeal to the principal to forbid it; thankfully, to no avail.
The kids Ben-Gvir addressed challenged him about his activism as a former member of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s outlawed Kach Party; the IDF’s refusal to induct him; and his having referred to Baruch Goldstein – the American-Israeli doctor who killed 29 Arab worshipers (and wounded another 125) at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994 – as “my hero.”
Ben-Gvir replied: “I was convicted of having a sticker calling for the expulsion of [Israel’s] Arabs. For that, I was convicted 20 years ago for supporting a terrorist organization. I don’t believe in expelling all Arabs… It’s true that when I was 17, I said that Goldstein was a hero. Today, I’m 46. Years have passed since then. My children were born. I became a lawyer. I don’t think of Goldstein as a hero. I don’t think that Arabs have to be killed or expelled. But I do think that anyone who murders our soldiers should be fought.”
When asked about legislating the death penalty for terrorists, he answered, “I was told that the United States opposes [such] legislation. And we will tell the U.S.: ‘What’s good for you is good for us.’ If the U.S. has the death penalty, we can also impose it.”
Unlike Abbas, Ben-Gvir isn’t lauded for moderating his stance. He’s ridiculed for presenting a phony, “new and improved” version of himself as a ploy.
This attitude is convenient for Bibi-bashers, who add Ben-Gvir’s name to all their memes and slogans, making it sound as though he’s Netanyahu’s running mate, not an MK on whose party’s mandates he’ll have to rely. No wonder Democrats are jumping on that bandwagon.
Still, it’s important to note that Sherman and Menendez haven’t sounded alarm bells in Lapid’s direction about risking relations with the U.S. in the event that he leans on the treasonous MKs in Ayman Odeh’s Joint Arab List to stay in power.
Never mind that no amount of anti-Zionist MKs can give Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party a numerical shot at victory. Forget that he’s hoping Netanyahu’s Likud will also come up short, thereby perpetuating his indefinite caretaker premiership until yet another election is held.
One thing the two Congressmen can’t deny is that if any Republican lawmakers were to reprimand Lapid, all hell would break loose. But then, their support for the Jewish state isn’t conditional upon Israeli behavior. It stems from a belief both in Judeo-Christianity and in Israel’s benefit to the U.S. as a crucial strategic asset.
This op-ed was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and can be viewed here.