Israel’s Ben-Gvir, in leaked audio, cautious on advancing far-right agenda

by mcardinal


A far-rightist on track to a key post in Israel’s incoming government has warned his party not to try to move too quickly with its agenda, saying in a recording leaked on Sunday that some planned legislation could backfire.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu last week promised Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir the National Security Ministry, a newly created portfolio with powers over police in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The ascent of Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler whose record includes 2007 convictions for incitement against Arabs and support for a Jewish group on the Israeli and U.S. terrorist watchlists, has stirred concern at home and abroad.

But Ben-Gvir, now a lawyer, says his positions have become more moderate. They include expulsion for those he deems terrorists or traitors – rather than Arabs en masse – and looser open-fire regulations for troops facing Palestinian unrest.

Israel’s Army Radio aired a recording from a Jewish Power meeting in which one lawmaker discusses a proposed bill for deporting those who voice solidarity with militants.

Ben-Gvir responds: “Let’s say that tomorrow morning … a family member comes along and praises the action of Doctor Goldstein – then they should be thrown of out the country?”

That referred to Baruch Goldstein, a settler who identified with the ultranationalist Jewish group Kach and massacred Palestinians in a West Bank mosque in 1994. The attack prompted Israel to outlaw Kach, to which Ben-Gvir also once belonged.

“Every bill you propose has very, very broad consequences and impacts,” Ben-Gvir says in the recording. “If you know what the impacts are and you know what needs to be done – I’m with you. But first, everything must be understood.”

Queried by Army Radio, he verified the recording.

Ben-Gvir’s appointment – which a Channel 12 TV poll found 49% of Israelis would support, while 46% were opposed – awaits the finalization of a government with a parliamentary majority.

Noam, a party that promotes stringent Jewish law, became the second coalition partner to Netanyahu’s conservative Likud on Sunday, netting him 39 of the Knesset’s 120 seats so far.

Palestinians have scorned Ben-Gvir’s circumspection.

“Ben-Gvir wants to move from being a rowdy, law-breaking, racist and terrorist to a man who possesses official responsibilities so he can turn this racism and hatred into official government policy, through the positions he would assume,” said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Since his deal with Likud, Ben-Gvir has also refused to be drawn on past calls to end an Israeli police ban on Jewish prayer at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound, which Jews revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples. Palestinians and Jordan regard Jewish prayer there as a provocation.

Pressed by Israel’s Kan radio on Sunday, he said only that he would “do everything possible to prevent bigoted policies on the Temple Mount”, using a biblical name for the site.

Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters