newsU.S.-Israel Relations

US won’t say if it would work with Yair Golan, who denounced haredi Jews

The U.S. State Department "unequivocally rejects dehumanizing and inflammatory language, regardless of who is targeted by such rhetoric," a spokesperson said.

Israeli Labor Party Chairman Yair Golan attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 3, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Labor Party Chairman Yair Golan attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 3, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The U.S. State Department commented for the first time on Thursday on controversial statements about ultra-Orthodox Jews by the incoming chief of Israel’s Labor Party, Yair Golan, who was elected with 95% of the primary vote on May 28.

JNS asked Foggy Bottom about Golan’s prior statements about ultra-Orthodox Jews, including describing them as a “parasitic population” and denouncing the Jewish community in Judea and Samaria, which includes U.S.-Israeli dual citizens, as “subhuman.”

JNS also asked the State Department if Washington would rule out contacts with Golan after a new election in Israel, similar to the administration’s undeclared boycott of Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

On Thursday, a State Department spokesperson told JNS that Washington “unequivocally rejects dehumanizing and inflammatory language, regardless of who is targeted by such rhetoric.”

“Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of any democracy and should be respected,” the U.S. official added. The official referred JNS back to Golan for comment “regarding his specific remarks.”

The spokesperson declined to respond to the question of whether the Biden administration would engage with Golan if he were to become part of a future Israeli government.

David May, research manager and a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that Washington “should not intervene in domestic Israeli affairs, and it certainly shouldn’t put its thumb on the scale in favor of its preferred party.”

“Unfortunately, this would not be the first time an American president interfered in domestic Israeli politics,” May said. “By selectively criticizing the Israeli leaders who don’t align with its priorities, the White House is putting its thumb on the scale in domestic Israeli affairs.”

“This interference is often self-defeating, because it can bolster the popularity of leaders seen as being attacked by outside forces,” May added.

An ex-Meretz Party lawmaker and former Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, Golan was elected chairman of the Jewish state’s oldest party last week, receiving over 95% of the votes in a round of primaries prompted by the resignation of Merav Michaeli.

Golan has a history of controversial statements. In 2016, he was accused of comparing Jerusalem’s conduct in Judea and Samaria to that of Nazi Germany during a speech marking Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

Two years ago, while serving as a deputy economy minister in the Bennett-Lapid government on behalf of the Meretz Party, Golan was forced to issue a formal but half-hearted apology after he called Jewish residents of the Homesh outpost in Samaria “subhuman.”

Shortly before Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel, Golan faced accusations of antisemitism after he attacked Israel’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish, population, calling them a “parasitic population.”

“It is impossible to have a huge population that is growing at a rapid rate, a parasitic population in the State of Israel,” Golan stated in a Sept. 11, 2023, interview with Israel’s public Kan Reshet Bet radio station.

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has reportedly refused to invite Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and other members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and religious parties to official events.

A survey published on May 30 by the Direct Polls Institute projected that the Labor Party under Golan’s leadership would win eight seats in Israel’s 120-member legislature if elections were to be called.

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