Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has nominated a far-right politician who once boasted that she is “proud to be a racist” as his country’s top diplomat in New York.
The appointment of May Golan was swiftly denounced by Israeli and American former diplomats, and the head of the largest Jewish denomination in the US, as an affront to the US and damaging for Israel.
A group of former Israeli ambassadors said they were “shocked” by the move.
“Golan’s appointment is outrageous as she is a racist and divisive figure, which is the exact opposite from what Israel needs in such a critical place,” they said.
Golan, who is a member of the Israeli parliament for Netanyahu’s Likud party and a minister without portfolio in the current government, is a supporter of the ultranationalist faction in the ruling coalition that is attempting to curb the power of Israel’s courts in what has been described as a “judicial coup”.
She will take over from Asaf Zamir, who resigned last month after telling a meeting of American Jewish donors that he was “deeply concerned about the direction [Israel] is going in right now”.
Golan made a political name for herself by denouncing African refugees in Israel, calling them “Muslim infiltrators”, criminals and rapists. She said many have Aids, suggested they were spreading HIV by working as waiters, and demanded they be expelled from the country.
“If I am racist for wanting to defend my country and for wanting to protect my basic rights and security, then I’m a proud racist,” she said at a political rally in 2013 as a member of the far-right Jewish Power party, a descendent of the Kach party that was outlawed under Israeli anti-terrorism laws.
Golan described herself as “very flattered” to have been nominated to the New York position, which has to be ratified by the Israeli parliament.
The former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, said the appointment “will be seen by the American Jewish community as a sign of utmost disrespect”.
Israel’s consul to New York is expected to maintain close relations with the largest Jewish community outside the Middle East. Many are members of the Reform movement, the biggest Jewish denomination in the US but a small one in Israel, which has been unusually critical of Israeli government policy over the attempts to curb the power of the judiciary. Golan has previously disparaged the Reform movement.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, slammed the appointment.
“We need a thoughtful, diplomatic, morally credible new consul general in NY. May Golan is none of those. Her brand of Zionism is antithetical to the majority of our community. She will harm not help Israel’s cause,” he tweeted.
The liberal pro-Israel lobby organisation J Street also criticised the nomination.
“This appointment would be another affront by the Netanyahu government to shared democratic values, and an offense to the people – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – of a city that embodies America’s commitment to vibrant diversity,” it said.
Golan said that she will “work with the leaders of all the Jewish organizations – as part of the effort to strengthen the great partnership between Israel and the American Jewish communities”.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Netanyahu may have made the appointment in order to remove a strong supporter of the judicial reforms from the government as he tries to navigate a political path after weeks of large demonstrations against the new laws.
Likud denied the claim and said that “the offer was made to Golan because of her excellent public diplomacy skills in English”.