(Photo Credit: AFP)
Israeli President Isaac Herzog was heard saying on 9 November that “the whole world is worried” about newly elected lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right stance, according to Israeli media sources.
Herzog’s statement was picked up by a microphone – which he apparently thought was turned off – as he was holding consultations with an ultra-Orthodox political party about the next government.
Ben Gvir, the leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, is an extremist, anti-Arab ultranationalist who is set to become a minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new cabinet.
“You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about. I have also said this to him,” Herzog was caught saying at the end of the meeting.
Herzog’s office later reiterated that the president had discussed these concerns with Ben Gvir directly.
Ben Gvir is notoriously known for his racist remarks and endorsement of the Israeli army’s aggressive approach to Palestinians, however, on 7 November, Israel’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Israel Hayom, published a front-page column by Itamar Ben Gvir, who claims to have “grown up” and “moderated” his well-established racist and anti-Arab views.
“I’ve grown up, I’ve moderated and I’ve come to understand that life is more complicated,” Ben Gvir claims in his column, which was published just three weeks after he stormed the flashpoint neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, waving a gun and urging settlers to shoot Palestinians.
Despite his claims, Ben Gvir has led several violent raids into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, calling for its demolition earlier this year.
Ben Gvir had been working to whitewash his image ahead of the elections, telling AFP a few days before the polls: “I’ve changed … When I said 20 years ago that I wanted to expel all the Arabs, I don’t think that anymore. But I will not apologize.”
In 2007, he was convicted of incitement to racism and of belonging to a terrorist group.
Ben-Gvir is a disciple of Meir Kahane, the founder of the Kach party, which was previously barred from running for the Knesset and designated as a terrorist organization.
More recently, Ben Gvir has acted as a lawyer defending activists from Lehava, a pro-segregation group that calls for the complete expulsion of Palestinians and a ban on Christmas.
He also represented Israeli settlers implicated in the 2015 firebombing of a Palestinian home in the occupied West Bank that killed a baby and his parents.
“When we form the government, I will promote the Deportation Law, which will deport anyone who acts against the State of Israel or [its] soldiers,” Ben Gvir said in an interview last August.