Itamar Ben Gvir addressing his supporters after the exit polls on 1 November 2022 (Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel via Flash90)
The spokesman for the US Department of State, Ned Price, condemned the participation of a key figure in the upcoming Israeli government, Itamar Ben Gvir, for his involvement in the commemoration of the late rabbi Meir Kahane.
“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent. There is no other word for it. It is abhorrent,” said Price in a press conference late on 10 November.
He added that “we remain concerned, as we said before, by the legacy of Kahane Chai,” a US-born Israeli who was convicted for the murder of Soviet officers and conspiring to bomb the Iraqi diplomatic mission in Washington.
Nonetheless, the remarks were criticized by Israeli officials, notably Miki Zohar, who considered the US statement unjustified and scolded them for not following up on Ben Gvir’s comments at the rally.
“It is no secret that today I am not Rabbi Kahane, and I do not support the deportation of all Arabs, and I will not enact laws for separate beaches,” Ben Gvir addressed the public in an attempt to showcase his moderation.
Ben Gvir added that “Rabbi Kahane was about love. Love for Israel without compromise, without any other consideration.”
הביקורת האמריקאית לא מוצדקת ואינה במקומה. חבל שהם לא בדקו מה היה בעצרת ומה בן גביר אמר בעצרת הזו.
זה פשוט עצוב ומיותר.
— Miki Zohar מיקי זוהר (@zoharm7) November 10, 2022
The remarks made by US officials echoed those of their Israeli counterparts, who have voiced their own concerns about the rise of Ben Gvir and his outspoken ideas, which have resonated with hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
On 10 November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog was heard saying, “you have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about. I have also said this to him,” about Ben Gvir, during political consultations with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Ben Gvir was considered “too dangerous to join the army at the age of 18,” in fear of his activism. He was also excluded from a partnership with previous Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett for having a photo of Baruch Goldstein in his office.
His celebration of Goldstein’s murder of 34 Muslims in Hebron in 1994 was too extreme even for Bennett, whose actions led to the murder of 106 Lebanese civilians in Qana in 1996.
If Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to grant Ben Gvir the Ministry of Public Security – which oversees the Israeli Police and prison service – he will influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
This position would also grant Ben Gvir control of the Al-Aqsa compound, to which he has long denied any Islamic connection. He has vowed to allow all Jews access to its quarters at any given time, for any religious ritual.
Under such circumstances, Ben Gvir would likely drive Israel into a regional war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the factions in the Gaza strip: both Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the leaders of the resistance factions in Gaza, have warned that any change in the status of the Al-Aqsa mosque would lead to a conflict.
However, throughout Israel’s history, its leaders have rarely abstained from committing crimes against Palestinians, nor waging wars that have disrupted the peace in several West Asian countries.
The media’s efforts to present Ben Gvir as an anomaly to Israel’s political class will not change the fact that any law or decision in Israel is only possible through the collective understanding and agreement between the political and military echelons in Tel Aviv.