As far-right MK visits Ramat Gan school, some pupils greet him with anti-Arab chants

Principal defends invite to Itamar Ben Gvir, says high schoolers learning about democratic process; Labor MK says racist views have become normalized

Far right MK Itamar Ben Gvir address students at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, September 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Far right MK Itamar Ben Gvir address students at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, September 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Controversy erupted at a school in central Israel on Tuesday after a visiting far-right lawmaker was welcomed by some students with anti-Arab chants.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party which is running with the Religious Zionism party, was invited to speak at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, a public school that has a history of encouraging political engagement among students. (It regularly holds mock elections during national votes, and invites politicians to speak to pupils.)

The invitation to Ben Gvir, a far-right disciple of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, to speak to students had elicited intense criticism in recent days. Principal Hila Romesh defended the move, adding that hard-left Joint List leader Ayman Odeh had been invited to speak at the school soon as well.

Ben Gvir’s arrival was met with a protest at the school entrance by dozens of left-wing activists, including Labor MK Gilad Kariv. In turn, they were greeted by some school students, apparently supporters of Ben Gvir, with chants of “May your village burn.”

The chants directed at Arabs have been heard at numerous far-right events in recent years.

The school principal told the Ynet news site that the far-right lawmaker was invited to the school as part of an election exercise before the country heads to the polls on November 1.

“I received around 600 messages from opponents and supporters. It’s fine — this is democracy. Ben Gvir was elected legally, and if the school holds democratic [mock] elections, then all elected officials should be invited, from across the political spectrum,” Romesh said.

She condemned the anti-Arab chanting, saying students who had participated in it were disciplined, but added that there was no alternative to engagement.

Speaking to the gathered students, Ben Gvir said that while he did not know her, Romesh had performed a “democratic act” by allowing him to speak at the school.

Kariv disagreed. “This is not about education on democracy and a culture of debate — this is a moral and educational bankruptcy,” he said. “The Israeli right has enough talented speakers, and we should not invite a person who has put a picture of a murderer and terrorist on the wall of his house.”

Until it began to harm him politically, Ben Gvir kept on a wall of his Hebron home a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. Ben Gvir has never disavowed Goldstein.

Kariv said the racist chants of the students were the “result of the normalization of Kahanism, the fear of outlawing the Lehava organization, of Ben Gvir becoming a television studio favorite.”

Otzma Yehudit is allied with Lehava, a Jewish supremacist anti-miscegenation group.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv leads a session of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, June 26, 2022. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Ben Gvir is an ardent admirer of Rabbi Kahane, who advocated transferring Israel’s Arabs out of the country. He was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for holding a sign at a protest reading “Expel the Arab enemy.”

Ben Gvir frequently stirs up friction between Jewish and Arab Israelis and was reportedly accused by the national police chief of abetting the worst inter-communal violence in recent Israeli history in May of last year.

He has additionally allied with some of Israel’s most extremist Jewish movements and activists — including Lehava, and the virulently homophobic Noam.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir seen with Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 6, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Blich’s student body was clearly divided on Ben Gvir, with one teen telling him: “The army did not recruit you. You called Baruch Goldstein ‘my hero’ — a murderer of 29 people. Why should I, a high school student, and my friends, see you as a role model?”

Meretz MK Michal Rozin said she was distressed by the scenes from the Ramat Gan high school, where she herself studied, and that they reflected a trend in society.

“I am personally saddened to see what happened this morning at Blich High School, the high school I attended,” Rozin tweeted. “The harsh comments such as ‘may your village burn’ should be a warning light for the path Israeli society is taking, and make us ask very difficult questions about our future.”

Last month, Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism announced that they had agreed to run together in the upcoming Knesset elections, after opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu hosted a meeting with the leaders of the far-right parties to broker a merger agreement.

The two factions ran on a joint slate in last year’s elections but had recently split over the makeup of the slate for the coming vote, with Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir seeking greater representation as recent polls showed him surging in popularity while Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism received mixed results.

A joint statement from Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism said the deal would help lead to a “victory” for the Netanyahu-led right-wing religious bloc.

Most Popular
read more: