Jan 17, 2023 - World

Scoop: Rosen tells Israel she doesn't want to meet with members of 2 far-right parties

Sen. Jacky Rosen in Aug. 2, 2022. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Jacky Rosen in Aug. 2, 2022. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) told the Israeli government she doesn't want the bipartisan Senate delegation she is leading to Israel this week to meet with any members of two Israeli far-right parties that are in the government coalition, according to two Israeli officials and a source close to the senator.

Why it matters: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading the most right-wing and religious government Israel has had since its establishment, with Itmar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich — two far-right politicians known for racist and Jewish supremacist rhetoric — serving as senior ministers.

  • Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power party and Smotrich's Religious Zionism party together hold 15 seats in the Knesset and are key members of Netanyahu's coalition.

Driving the news: The delegation, which Rosen is leading with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), is made up of lawmakers who are part of the Abraham Accords Caucus — a group formed to support and expand the normalization agreements, brokered by the Trump administration, between Israel and several Arab countries.

  • Israel is the last stop on the delegation's trip to the region, which also included visits to Morrocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Ted Budd (R-NC) are also part of the delegation.
  • The Israeli visit is expected to include meetings with Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and other Israeli officials and lawmakers.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials told Axios that ahead of the trip, Rosen and her team made it clear they do not want members of Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power or Smotrich’s Religious Zionism parties to attend any of their meetings, especially those in the Knesset.

  • “It was Sen. Rosen’s request to not meet with members of the two far-right parties," a source close to Rosen told Axios.
  • Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Axios the delegation is not scheduled to meet any members of the far-right parties.

State of play: Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist, is serving as the Netanyahu government's national security minister. He was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism.

  • Smotrich, a radical right-wing politician who has also expressed anti-LGBTQ views, is serving as the finance minister and as a Defence Ministry minister in charge of civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank.

The big picture: U.S. officials and others had previously expressed concern about Netanyahu's inclusion of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in his coalition.

  • Several weeks before the November Israeli elections, a Senate bipartisan delegation led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
  • Menendez warned Netanyahu that forming a government with the far-right parties could harm U.S.-Israel bilateral relations.
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