In a rare political moment, Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to the role of Israel’s Prime Minister after losing the job in the previous election cycle.
United States Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides on Thursday called opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his win in this week’s national election.
Nides said he spoke to Netanyahu, “congratulated him on his victory and told him I look forward to working together to maintain the unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel.
The Biden administration has been circumspect in its response to the Israeli election results, which see Netanyahu poised to return to power after a year in the opposition, boosted by a strong showing for the far-right Religious Zionism and its firebrand co-leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that “we hope 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.”
Before the vote count was final, US officials appeared hesitant to weigh in on the election, even though Netanyahu’s victory appeared all but inevitable.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested it was “too early to speculate, as you know, on the exact composition of the next governing coalition until all the votes are counted.”
She added that “we look forward to continuing to work with the Israeli government on our shared interests and values.”
Reports in the past few days have indicated that the White House may choose to boycott Ben Gvir if he becomes a minister.
Congratulations, however, rolled in from some of Europe’s most right-wing leaders, including Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the newly installed Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
“Congratulations – Mazel Tov to @netanyahu for the electoral success,” tweeted Meloni. “Ready to strengthen our friendship and our bilateral relations, to better face our common challenges.”
Orban tweeted a photo of himself holding up Netanyahu’s new autobiography, writing: “What a great victory for Benjamin @netanyahu in Israel! Hard times require strong leaders. Welcome back!”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also tweeted congratulations to Netanyahu.
“It’s always important to see real democracy in action. & share common values & challenges that now require effective cooperation,” wrote the Ukrainian leader, who has had a strained relationship with Israel over its continued refusal to send military aid to counter Russia’s invasion.
“We hope to open a new page in cooperation with the new Government for & benefit!” Zelensky added.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who enjoyed warm ties with Netanyahu during his last term in office, tweeted, “Mazel Tov my friend @netanyahu for your electoral success. I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to deepen the India-Israel strategic partnership.”
Modi also thanked outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid for his “priority to the India-Israel strategic partnership. I hope to continue our fruitful exchange of ideas for the mutual benefit of our peoples.”
Most mainstream US Jewish groups have issued muted reactions to the election results, with several noting some concern with Ben Gvir and his extremist policies.
But the left-leaning Anti-Defamation League came out more forcefully against the expected inclusion of Ben Gvir and his Religious Zionism partner Bezalel Smotrich in Netanyahu’s next cabinet.
In a statement Thursday, the ADL congratulated Netanyahu on his win, but said it is nevertheless “greatly concerned” that Ben Gvir and Smotrich, who “both have a long history of engaging in racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and other hateful behavior,” would be granted ministerial posts.
The ADL statement singled out Ben Gvir for a stated policy to “‘encourage’ the emigration of Arab citizens of Israel — whom his party refers to as “enemies of Israel.” His inclusion, the organization said, “would run counter to Israel’s founding principles, and impact its standing, even among its strongest supporters.”
The organization said it anticipates as well that “there are those who are committed to denying the legitimacy of Israel, and who engage in the relentless demonizing of Zionism, who will be further emboldened by these developments, with repercussions for global Jewish communities, and, in particular, for Jewish students on campus.”