WASHINGTON — Leading Democratic lawmakers strongly decried incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impending far-right coalition, warning of its potential adverse effects on U.S.-Israel ties, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli democracy.
Concerns within Washington surrounding Netanyahu’s government are only growing, after he moved to bring the homophobic Noam party into the coalition, tapping Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir with the newly created position of “national security minister” and granting Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party authority over civil administration of the West Bank.
Rep. Peter Welch, who will soon replace Sen. Patrick Leahy in the Senate, warned Israel is contending with the same forces of anti-democratic and hate propaganda embodied by Donald Trump hosting avowed antisemites Kanye West and Nick Fuentes.
Welch accused Netanyahu of “reaching out to parties previously deemed completely outside the boundaries of Israel’s democratic traditions. Bibi didn’t have dinner with Trump and Ye and Fuentes, but it’s clear he’s serving the same menu.”
The Vermont lawmaker said Netanyahu’s actions “display a callous disregard for the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Why is he working to create a government that not only opposes a two-state solution, but one that would include ministers who would expel Arab Israeli citizens?”
He further invoked the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, saying “I cannot support Netanyahu’s efforts to undermine the very aspirations of the democratic State of Israel by marginalizing, annexing and compromising rights of Arab-Israeli citizens.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin echoed these points during his keynote address on the defense of democracy, warning that “In Israel, the political forces defending democracy and equal rights and freedom under law and the peace process must contend with a surging far-right alliance in the Knesset, which is poised to contribute numerous members to Netanyahu’s new cabinet.”
Detailing Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s track record, the Maryland Congressman warned that “the inclusion of political extremists in the government of a democratic society – as we’ve seen recently here in the Trump administration – constitutes a clear and present danger to democratic values, the rule of law and human rights.”
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Rep. Gerry Connolly noted Netanyahu’s longstanding opposition to policies promoted by the Democratic Party in the decades he’s known him, particularly concerning the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, though noted that he has now “put together the most extreme right-wing government in the history of Israel, including people who were not long ago designated as terrorist-supporting – not only by our government and Europe, but by Israel itself.”
“Holding this new government to account by us is going to be critical. Bibi knows that when he comes here, he better not try to divide us on partisan lines again. He'd better not risk Israel’s long-term support in the United States by making it a partisan issue and he better listen to voices – including the voices in this room – who are growing in number,” the Virginia Congressman added.
Rep. Becca Balint, who will replace Welch in the House as Vermont's first female and openly gay representative, said “we must all do everything that we can to stand against those who seek to destroy our democracy, and we have to be ever-vigilant and tend to those threats overseas as well. Including in Israel.”
Balint, the granddaughter of a Jewish Holocaust victim, cited J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami’s warnings about the election results, where he warned that they were “deeply troubling for all who care about Israel and about liberal democracy globally – for those whose core values of justice, equality and freedom are fundamentally at odds with the parties and leaders who stand on the cusp of victory.”
“An ultra-right-wing Netanyahu government will force a moment of reckoning for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and for all Americans who care about a just, equal and democratic future for all those living in Israel and Palestine,” she continued quoting him, adding that “Ben-Ami speaks my mind, and I will be a strong supporter and partner in this work.”
Meanwhile, Reps. Sean Casten, Madeleine Dean, Jennifer Wexton and Melanie Stansbury spoke together during a plenary session lauding J Street for bringing them to Israel and the West Bank to see the conflict first-hand and empowering them to effect change in Washington.
“When I see the reorganization under what looks like a future prime minister – and I’m so gravely concerned about the direction that’ll be, and that the direction that coalition will take Israel and the Palestinian people – I try not to get so overwhelmed,” Dean said.
“What Israel is struggling with is what we are struggling with. We’re struggling to make everyone equal. We’re struggling to tamp down on antisemitism and bigotry and hate. It’s a global thing, and we can make a difference,” the Pennsylvania Congresswoman added.
The lawmakers’ remarks were offered at the same conference where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted the Biden administration would interact with the new Israeli government based on its policy and not personalities of coalition members.
Netanyahu has attempted to push back against concerns regarding his new far-right partners by offering “what-aboutisms” concerning the outgoing coalition and defending his own record of “having two hands on the wheel” and vowing he will “safeguard Israeli democracy.”