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Ben Gvir claims he’s met foreign officials to rehabilitate image; evidence is scant

Otzma Yehudit chief’s office refuses to name any diplomats he’s been in contact with; missions indicate clear reluctance to meet prospective incoming far-right minister

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir and members of the party speak to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir and members of the party speak to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir said in recent days that he’d started to hold meetings with foreign diplomats in Israel in order to rehabilitate his international image. But Ben Gvir’s team has refused to provide details on any such meetings, and many diplomats are reluctant to meet with the incoming minister who leads the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) faction.

Ben Gvir is widely reported to be expecting to hold the public security portfolio in a potential government led by Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu.

His stated intention to meet with diplomats stationed in Israel came after President Isaac Herzog’s hot mic comments last week that “the whole world is worried” about Ben Gvir’s far-right positions.

Herzog also told the Otzma Yehudit chief directly that “your party has a certain image that raises concerns in many places.”

Ben Gvir told the media that “following the talks with the president, I started meeting with diplomats and will work to explain the positions of Otzma Yehudit to the entire world.”

The Times of Israel contacted Ben Gvir’s spokesman to find out who he had met or requested to meet, and what had been discussed. Ben Gvir’s team has yet to respond.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir and members of the party meet with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

The Times of Israel also contacted ambassadors, diplomats, senior and junior staff in the missions of Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Australia, India, Greece, Egypt, the US and more. None confirmed being contacted by Ben Gvir’s office. A few would not respond, but most said they had not been contacted and that if they were to receive a request for a meeting, any decision would be made in their respective capitals.

Meanwhile, many indicated that the issue of contact with the far-right figure was highly sensitive and diplomatically uncomfortable and that no decision had yet been made on how to deal with the political rise of Ben Gvir.

In the days that have passed since the president’s conversations with and about Ben Gvir, the latter attended and spoke at an annual commemoration event held in honor of racist rabbi Meir Kahane. The one-time leader of the outlawed Kach party was assassinated at a New York City hotel in November 1990 by an Egyptian-American jihadist. Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of Kahane.

At the event, Ben Gvir was loudly booed by attendants for saying he did not wish, as Kahane did, to expel all of Israel’s Arab population. The US condemned the  event, calling it the “abhorrent” celebration of a terror group’s legacy.

The Times of Israel was told that by attending that event, Ben Gvir has further decreased the possibility of foreign diplomats agreeing to a meeting.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a ceremony honoring late Jewish extremist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Diplomats stationed in Israel generally meet with Israeli politicians to generate business and cooperation opportunities.

Ben Gvir was in the past convicted on several counts, including support for a terror organization due to his backing of Kach. He insists he has moderated in recent years, although a candidate for his party was caught on hidden camera earlier this year saying his moderation of extremist positions was a “trick” in order to enter the Knesset.

Meir Kahane addresses a gathering at the Silver Springs Jewish Center in Maryland, Oct. 27, 1988 (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

Ben Gvir gained notoriety before the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin when during a TV interview he proudly held up an ornament that he’d managed to rip off Rabin’s Cadillac and said “We’ll get to Rabin too.”

Additionally, for years, Ben Gvir had a picture of Baruch Goldstein — the Jewish terrorist who carried out a massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians — hanging on the wall of his Kiryat Arba home. He removed it in 2019 after it became heavily publicized in local media and began to harm him politically.

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