According to an Israeli official, a delegation of U.S. senators arrived in Israel on Tuesday, asking not to meet with far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, along with any other members of their hardline factions.
Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen’s office made the request. Rosen co-leads the bipartisan delegation with Republican Senator James Lankford.
So far, the Biden administration hasn’t announced such boycotts publicly. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has explained the U.S. will gauge the new Israeli government by its policies instead of individual personalities. Other officials from the Biden administration, such as the U.S. ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, say that their dialogue regarding Jerusalem will be with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that he will be held responsible for his government’s moves.
Other members of the Democratic Party aren’t as comfortable with Israel’s new government. The rest of the world views Netanyahu’s coalition as the most right-wing group throughout Israel’s history. Tuesday’s request not to meet with Ben Gvir and Smotrich coming from Rosen, seen as one of the most pro-Israel members of the Democratic caucus, demonstrates how great Washington’s unease is with the Israelis, especially within the Biden administration.
Smotrich serves as Israel’s finance minister and is also a minister responsible for West Bank policy in the Defense Ministry. He has been a long-time advocate for annexing large portions of the West Bank without giving Palestinians throughout the areas equal rights. Smotrich also expresses antagonistic views toward LGBTQ individuals and Arab Israelis.
Ben Gvir is serving as Israel’s national security minister. He shares several of Smotrich’s views and describes himself as a disciple of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane. Ben Gvir has been convicted of terror offenses for supporting Kahane’s outlawed Kach movement and is a long-time advocate of deporting “disloyal” Arab Israelis.
Before entering Congress, Senator Rosen was the president of her reform synagogue in Nevada. Both Smotrich and Ben Gvir have repeatedly made disparaging comments toward Reform Judaism that Rosen would not have tolerated.
While Smotrich’s office has already confirmed that there are currently no meetings scheduled between the finance minister and the delegation of seven U.S. senators, Ben Gvir’s office declined to comment on the matter. However, the office did release a statement claiming that the Axios reporter initially breaking the story is engaged in a “campaign” politically motivated against Ben Gvir.
“In the last few weeks, when there were quite a few requests from senators, ambassadors, consuls and international officials to meet with the minister, the reporter again chose to campaign against Minister Ben Gvir,” the statement read. “The minister is busy with the affairs of the ministry, but nevertheless hopes to make time for these important meetings with diplomats from all over the world in order to continue strengthening Israel’s position in the world.”
Along with Rosen, the U.S. delegation includes Democrats Michael Bennet, Mark Kelly and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Republicans Ted Budd and Dan Sullivan. They are scheduled to meet with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli lawmakers at the Knesset.
The delegation is part of the Senate’s Abraham Accords Congressional Caucus. The caucus was established last year alongside a parallel panel in the House of Representatives, expanding the legislative branch’s role with the promotion of the normalization agreements signed between Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Tuesday’s stop in Israel was the last for the delegation, which visited each of the four countries since last Thursday.