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Ben Gvir said considering offering ex-spy Pollard a place on his Knesset slate

Far-right MK meeting military, religious figures and influential women in bid to build a new political roster after saying he will run separately in November elections

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, left, attends the funeral of his wife Esther in Jerusalem on January 31, 2022; MK Itamar Ben Gvir, right, speaks during a press conference in Ramat Gan on August 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, left, attends the funeral of his wife Esther in Jerusalem on January 31, 2022; MK Itamar Ben Gvir, right, speaks during a press conference in Ramat Gan on August 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir is considering offering convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard a place on his Otzma Yehudit party’s slate for the elections on November 1.

According to a Thursday report in the Israel Hayom newspaper, Ben Gvir recently met with the former US intelligence analyst and has begun looking into the support Pollard could draw by running his name in internal polls.

As an intelligence analyst in the US Navy’s counterterrorism center, Pollard passed thousands of classified US documents to Israel before he was arrested in 1985, convicted of espionage and sentenced to life in prison two years later.

The case seriously strained relations between Israel and its most important ally.

He was released in 2015 and moved to Israel a year ago.

The report did not say if Pollard, 68, was interested in joining Ben Gvir.

According to the report, Ben Gvir has recently met with a series of military officials, religious figures, and influential women in a bid to flesh out his new political roster after announcing his plan to run alone in the election.

Those who have already been guaranteed a place on the list, according to Israel Hayom, are the director general of Otzma Yehudit Itshak Waserlauf, who has been assigned the number two spot after Ben Gvir, followed by Almog Cohen, an activist and former police official.

Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) greets convicted US spy Jonathan Pollard at Ben Gurion Airport, December 30, 2020 (Courtesy)

After weeks of stop-start negotiations, Ben Gvir announced on Monday his intention to run separately in the November 1 general elections, departing from the Religious Zionism alliance headed by Bezalel Smotrich.

He accused Smotrich of refusing to negotiate a continued partnership in good faith, demanding six of the first eight spots on the electoral list and choosing to court only “classic” religious-Zionist voters. By contrast, Ben Gvir said, Otzma Yehudit is targeting “residents of the periphery, the north, south, the religiously traditional, secular, ultra-Orthodox, soldiers, and youth.”

Smotrich, in turn, accused Ben Gvir of incitement against the Religious Zionist party.

“Ben Gvir is carrying out a form of incitement against Religious Zionism in an effort to make it seem patronizing and arrogant,” he said in an interview with Reshet Bet Radio.

“I won’t apologize for wanting a religious Zionist party. We’re not only dealing with the issue of Arabs and death penalties for terrorists. I feel like he decided to run alone a month and a half ago and has since been playing games. What is he doing on social issues? Fighting with [Joint List MK Ahmad] Tibi?” he added.

After Ben Gvir’s announcement on Monday, Smotrcih urged his former political ally to reconsider, saying that dividing the right-wing religious camp would harm the bloc led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“We have another month before the electoral lists are closed. Come back to the negotiation room — let us talk about everything, discuss everything, and we will arrive at an agreement as to how best to run together to maximize our strength and bring about a victory for the national camp,” said Smotrich.

Far-right MKs Itamar Ben Gvir (left) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City on October 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit has of late been boosted by a series of favorable polls, some of which have shown a joint list receiving more seats if Ben Gvir, rather than Smotrich, headed the slate, and others that have predicted Otzma Yehudit would win more seats than the far-right Religious Zionism party if they were to run separately.

A Channel 12 poll Sunday night showed Otzma Yehudit taking eight seats and Religious Zionism just five if the two parties run independently.

Despite Ben Gvir’s declaration, an entire month remains before the September 15 deadline for submitting party lists, meaning that there is still time for negotiations on a joint run to be revived and concluded successfully.

 

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