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US senators visiting Israel do not want to meet with senior ministers Smotrich, Ben Gvir

Delegation consists of senators who are part of the Abraham Accords Caucus

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich with Jewish Power party head Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Dec. 28, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A bipartisan delegation of United States senators – who arrived on a visit to Israel Tuesday – said it will not meet with Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir or Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Axios reported on Tuesday.

Ben Gvir leads Israel’s far-right Jewish Power party, while Smotrich leads the Religious Zionism party.

Prior to the group’s arrival, Senate Democrat Jacky Rosen, delegation leader, said they did not any members of these two parties to attend its meetings, “especially those in the Knesset,” according to Israeli officials. 

“It was Sen. Rosen’s request to not meet with members of the two far-right parties,” a source close to Rosen told Axios.

During their visit, the senators are expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and other Israeli officials and lawmakers.

The delegation consists of senators who are part of the Abraham Accords Caucus, which was formed to support the normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Arab countries, beginning in 2020. The delegation has been on a tour of the region, including visits to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. Israel is the last stop on the tour before the delegation returns to the U.S.

The senators’ refusal to meet with Ben Gvir is one sign that his appointment to the role of national security minister could prove to be “a huge embarrassment,” Tel Aviv University Prof. Emmanuel Navon warned. Rosen is considered one of the most pro-Israel democratic senators and her reaction could indicate more boycotts of the controversial ministers in the future. 

Prior to Israel’s November elections, another bipartisan delegation from the U.S. Senate, led by Senate Democrat Bob Menendez and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, warned Netanyahu that relations with the U.S. could be harmed by including far-right parties in the government. 

Menendez, who is the chairman of the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the “most outspoken Democratic supporters of Israel in the Senate,” according to Axios, told Netanyahu that he had “serious concerns” about Jewish Power leader Ben Gvir, whom he referred to as “extremist and polarizing.” 

“People who were in the room saw how pissed off Bibi got” with Menendez’s comments, one source said at the time. 

“The senator told Netanyahu he needed to realize the composition of such a coalition could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington, which has been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” the source said.

The Biden administration itself, thus far, has made it clear that it will not be “boycotting” specific members of Israel’s government. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will not judge the new Israeli government on its members, but on its policies. 

Ben Gvir was a supporter of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a member of the Knesset for the Kach Party from 1984-1988, until his party was banned on the grounds of anti-Arab racism. Ben Gvir was considered so extreme that the IDF reportedly did not want to draft him. 

“The army was too concerned to give this guy a weapon then, and I believe this would still be the case today,” Navon told ALL ISRAEL NEWS in October, adding that he did not believe that Ben Gvir has moderated his views, despite claiming to do so. 

“He is definitely a Kahanist. His official statements on Arabs, minorities, state and religion have not changed. Now he says he just wants to expel ‘those who don’t pledge allegiance to the state.’ That is a statement open for interpretation,” Navon said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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