The Biden administration is signaling that it wants to blunt any rightward turn by Israel in the event that Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power, singling out one potential ally of the former prime minister as “a huge problem for us.”
A Biden administration official said the White House would be “troubled by the possibility” that Member of Knesset Itamar Ben Gvir, a hardline conservative and the head of the right-wing party Otzma Yehudit, might become a minister in the future Israeli government, according to Israel HaYom.
“It would be a huge problem for us,” the official said. “This is not someone we want to see as part of the government. Netanyahu is very smart and experienced and understands the consequences of such a development. This has not been discussed with him yet, because – as mentioned – we are at an early stage. But there is no doubt that he understands.”
The warning brought to mind accusations that the Obama administration, with Biden as the No. 2, meddled in Israeli elections in a bid to oust Netanyahu.
Otzma Yehudit blasted current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid following the report, implying that he had invited the U.S. to impose its will on Israeli politics.
“It appears that there’s no limit to Foreign Minister Lapid’s cynical exploitation of his position, now that we’re seeing Lapid deciding to use lying briefings to drag the American administration into a place where they are intervening in the elections process in Israel,” the party said in a statement reported by Israel National News. “Lapid is destroying Israel’s foreign relations and is giving up Israeli sovereignty in order to serve his own political ends.”
Others appeared to bristle at the suggestion the Jewish state’s sovereign control over elections and politics could be subject to outside influence.
“My goal is to work for the benefit of a Jewish, democratic, nationalist and Zionist country,” said Brigadier General Tzvika Fogel, who is secular but has joined Gvir’s party. “I want to see sovereignty imposed, governance strengthened, and settlements expanded. We have to strengthen our hold on the land against the view of the left-wing parties who don’t see the Land of Israel as of primary importance.”
In 2015, the Obama administration indirectly supported a group called One Voice, which tried to oust Netanyahu from office. According to a report from the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, State Department gave grants of $349,276 to One Voice’s Israeli and Palestinian branches to use over a 14-month period. But when that period elapsed, a group called V15 used the infrastructure that had been developed with the funds to urge for the ouster of Netanyahu.
V15 was “an organization established in December with one goal: to replace Israel’s right-wing government with a center-left coalition,” The Times of Israel reported
“In service of V15, OneVoice deployed its social media platform, which more than doubled during the State Department grant period; used its database of voter contact information, including email addresses… and enlisted its network of trained activists, many of whom were recruited or trained under the grant, to support and recruit for V15,” the report stated.
One of the co-authors of the report, Sen. Rob Portman, (R-OH), slammed the Obama administration for meddling in an election to undermine the leader of an ally.
“The State Department ignored warning signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” Portman said. “It is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East.”