Washington, DC – US President Joe Biden has said he looks forward to working with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, ignoring concerns about the inclusion of far-right Israeli politicians accused of racism in the new cabinet.
Biden called Netanyahu his “friend for decades” in a statement on Thursday, saying that he will cooperate with the Israeli government to jointly address challenges in the Middle East, including “threats from Iran”.
“From the start of my administration, we have worked with partners to promote this more hopeful vision of a region at peace, including between Israelis and Palestinians,” the US president said.
“We aim to continue this important work with Israel’s new government under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership.”
The Biden administration has been reluctant to voice any criticism against Israel, with top officials repeatedly stressing that the US support for its Middle Eastern ally is “ironclad”.
On Thursday, Biden reasserted Washington’s verbal support for the two-state solution, although Netanyahu’s government had openly said that settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank is its top priority.
Palestinian rights advocates say the settlements, which are illegal under international law, have made it all but impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state.
“As we have throughout my administration, the United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values,” Biden said on Thursday.
Netanyahu gave top posts to far-right politicians Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir in his new cabinet, which was sworn in on Thursday.
Smotrich, a settlement movement leader, was appointed finance minister, and Ben-Gvir was named minister of national security – roles where they will have considerable influence on Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that pyromaniacs are being handed responsibility for an already incendiary, deteriorating situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” J Street, a Jewish-American group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, said in a statement on Thursday.
Last month, the state department denounced Ben-Gvir for attending an event honouring Meir Kahane, a far-right rabbi who inspired violent attacks against Palestinians and Arab Americans.
At the memorial, Ben-Gvir praised Khane, who had founded the Jewish Defense League, a group linked to the 1985 assassination of Alex Odeh, a regional director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights group.
Known for his racist statements against Palestinians, Ben-Gvir hung a photo in his living room of a gunman who killed dozens of worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994 as recently as 2020, according to Israeli and international media reports.
Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power Party was part of the right-wing coalition that brought Netanyahu back to power after the November elections.
Initially, Washington implicitly expressed concern about the possible inclusion of Ben-Gvir in the cabinet. In November, US state department spokesman Ned Price said that Washington hoped that “all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of an open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society, particularly for minority groups”.
But in subsequent weeks, the Biden administration changed its posture, saying that it will judge the Israeli government based on policies, not “individual personalities”.
“Our relationship with Israel is rock-solid; it is multifaceted; it is based, of course, on interest. But it has also always been predicated on values,” Price said earlier this month.
On Thursday, Abed Ayoub, the executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, slammed Biden’s welcoming of the new Israeli government.
“The statement by President Biden is not grounded in any reality and completely ignores the fact that the new Israeli government is made up of dangerous religious extremists and terrorists who are a direct threat to Palestinians and Arabs across the world,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.