US rabbis sign letter vowing to block far-right Israel lawmakers from their communities [Netanyahu has never been a problem for them]

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  December 23, 2022

More than 300 rabbis say they will block members of Religious Zionism from their synagogues.

Hundreds of rabbis in the US have signed a petition to block far-right members of the incoming Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, from speaking to their synagogues and their communities.

The open letter states that the rabbis will not invite any members from the Religious Zionist bloc of the incoming government, which includes far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich

“We will speak out against their participation in other fora across our communities,” the letter states.

“We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.”

According to The Times of Israel, the letter has more than 330 signatures as of Friday morning.

The letter was signed by a range of Jewish religious leaders from Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, including some who lead major communities in Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, it does not include any signatories from the Orthodox movement.

Netanyahu’s bloc sailed to victory in the October elections thanks to an alliance with far-right religious Zionist parties.

The parties’ leaders have secured positions in a future government that may help them push through policies such as annexing large swaths of the occupied West Bank, expanding illegal Jewish settlements, and allowing Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Members of Israel’s government occasionally speak at synagogues in the US to garner support amongst Jewish communities.

Growing divide

The letter that has been circulating this week is a clear sign of a growing divide between Israel’s government and segments of the American Jewish community.

The election of the far-right coalition in Israel was a shock to some segments of the Jewish community in the US. However, the community’s perception of Israel has already been changing.

After Israel’s bombing of Gaza last May, 25 percent of American Jewish voters said Israel was an apartheid state, in a poll conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute. Another 38 percent of voters said Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was similar to general racism in the US.

“There already is a widening divide in American Jewish politics around Israel. It’s already generationally divided. Younger Jews are statistically more likely to be critical and more likely to be disengaged. And I think that [the Israeli election] is just going to contribute to continuing that trend,” Mari Cohen, assistant editor at Jewish Currentstold Middle East Eye in November.

The letter specifically called out Religious Zionism, which won 14 seats in the November election running on a joint slate with the Otzma Yehudit, (“Jewish Power”), and Noam, which fights for conservative “family values”. The three factions split apart after the election and are now holding separate coalition negotiations.

Smotrich, a self-declared homophobe and settler activist, has been tapped to become finance minister and will be placed within Israel’s Defence ministry, with oversight of settlements inside the illegally occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, Ben Gvir, who was previously convicted in Israel of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organization, is set to become national security minister, with oversight of police and the force that controls security at al-Aqsa Mosque.

While the rabbis who signed the letter are adamant about blocking the far-right lawmakers, the Biden administration has said it would take a different approach.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the J Street annual conference, held earlier this month, that Washington will judge Israel’s government by its policies, not by the individuals in Netanyahu’s coalition.