Far-right extremist to assume powerful position in Israel's new government

Far-right extremist to assume powerful position in Israel's new government
Itamar Ben-Gvir. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Far-right extremist and ultra-nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir is to be appointed to a powerful new position in Israel's cabinet, in a major breakthrough for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he attempts to form a coalition government following the country's parliamentary elections earlier this month.

"We took an important step tonight toward establishing a fully right-wing government," Ben-Gvir said in a statement published early on Friday morning.

Under the agreement signed with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, Ben-Gvir, the leader of the far-right Jewish Strength party, would be appointed as Israel's new National Security Minister, a more powerful version of the traditional cabinet position of Public Security Minister.

The coordinator of Likud's negotiating team, Yariv Levin, praised the agreement as one which will "establish a stable right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu that will march the State of Israel into good years".

The agreement follows Netanyahu's dramatic victory in Israel's parliamentary elections earlier this month, in which his party, Likud, won a plurality of seats in the Israeli Parliament. Altogether the pro-Netanyahu bloc — which includes ultra-Orthodox as well as far-right parties —  won 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

A deeply divisive figure

Ben-Gvir first rose to fame in 1995 after publicly issuing a thinly-veiled threat to assassinate then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose decision to sign the Oslo Accords — which aimed to fulfil the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" — angered many far-right and ultra-nationalist Israelis. Rabin was later murdered by another far-right extremist just two weeks after Ben-Gvir made his threat.

In his youth, Ben-Gvir was a committed follower of the late, explicitly racist, ultra-nationalist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose organisations were banned in Israel and officially designated as terrorist by the FBI. Ben-Gvir's extremism also led the Israel Defence Forces to exempt him from military service, while in 2007 he was convicted by a Jerusalem court for inciting racism and hatred against Arabs.

Up until 2019, Ben-Gvir reportedly hung a picture of the Jewish supremacist and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein in his living room. He removed it shortly before a failed Knesset run that year, apparently in an attempt to present a more moderate image to the Israeli electorate.

'The entire world is worried'

After finally winning a Knesset seat in 2021, Ben-Gvir continued to attempt to clean up his political image, although his policies are still widely considered to be extremely hardline.

Among other things, he openly calls for the deportation of Israel's Arab citizens — including rival lawmakers — who are "disloyal" towards the Israeli state, advocates granting immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot at Palestinians, and supports the death penalty for Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews.

In December last year, Ben-Gvir was interrogated by the Tel Aviv police after brandishing a gun at unarmed Palestinian parking attendants, who had informed him that his car was parked illegally.

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Earlier this month, Israel's own President, Isaac Herzog, was unintentionally caught on microphone claiming that "the entire world" is concerned about Ben-Gvir's potential appointment to a senior government position.

"You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about. I have also said this to him," Herzog said during a a consultation with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Netanyahu's negotiations with his other three potential far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners are still on-going. Should they be successful, Netanyahu would end up leading the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

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