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Israel's Bennett rebuffs concerns about new government, but adds, 'I don't know'

Former Israeli prime minister urges American Jewish community to continue supporting Israel amid tense relations
(L to R) Israel's prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and former prime minister Naftali Bennett attend a funeral on 26 December 2022.
Israel's then prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and former prime minister Naftali Bennett attend a funeral, on 26 December 2022 (AFP)

Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has urged the American Jewish community to not give up on Israel, saying at an event in New York that the concerns over the current far-right government are exaggerated.

However, while the former premier described some of the proposals by Israeli ministers as "foolish words flying out in the air", he ultimately said he doesn't know what the immediate future holds with the new government.

'I urge you, don’t give up on Israel, even if we’re going through a midlife crisis'

- Naftali Bennett, former Israeli prime minister

"There are a lot of foolish words flying out in the air," Bennett said on Monday night in remarks at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, as reported by the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

"There's a core of responsibility that will fend off the most radical of the suggestions, but to be fair, I don’t know."

Bennett spoke at an event alongside Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, who had recently issued a rare criticism of the new government.

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"Lots of people say stupid things. Much of it is not going to happen. No one's going to touch the LGBT community in Israel," Bennett said, in an apparent reference to several members of the far-right governing coalition who are openly anti-LGBTQ.

Bennett stepped down as prime minister last year after his coalition lost its majority, which led to a collapse that resulted in the November elections and the emergence of the new far-right coalition in Israel's Knesset.

'Don't give up on Israel'

The remarks by Bennett come at a particularly tense moment in the relations between Israel and the American Jewish community. The election of the new government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and dubbed the most far-right in Israel's history, has strained relations with many mainstream Jewish organisations in the US.

The leaders of American Jewish organisations have for weeks been expressing deep concerns over proposals by Netanyahu's new coalition partners to greatly expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, curb minority rights and increase control over Israel's judiciary.

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In Goldstein's statement, he said he was "alarmed" by the government's proposals that would allow Israel’s parliament to override decisions by the Supreme Court and further politicise the selection of its justices. He implored Netanyahu to reject the overhaul.

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

That same month, a Jewish human rights group representing more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America stated that the new Netanyahu-led government was a "stark display of rising fascism and racism".

Speaking in New York, Bennett called on the Jewish community to continue to support Israel and "enter into dialogue" with its government to share their concerns.

"I urge you, don’t give up on Israel, even if we’re going through a midlife crisis," Bennett said, as quoted by The Times of Israel.

"We will overcome this because the majority of the public wants a Jewish and democratic Israel, wants Judaism, does not want coercion."

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