Itamar Ben Gvir will demand legislation that will enable the cancellation of Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s graft trial, according to a recording of the far-right lawmaker released Sunday.
The Ynet news site obtained the recording of Ben Gvir speaking at an event earlier this month shortly after his political partner, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, unveiled a program of radical, far-reaching legal reforms that, if enacted, would drastically reduce judicial authority.
Both Smotrich and Netanyahu’s Likud were quick at the time to deny that the proposed reforms would have an impact on the former prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial.
However, Ben Gvir said that if he were a member of the next government, he would promote the passage of a so-called French Law, which would bar police from investigating graft suspicions against serving prime ministers.
Furthermore, Ben Gvir said he would insist that the legislation be implemented retroactively, meaning that Netanyahu’s trial would be canceled.
“Regarding the French Law, my position is unequivocal — much more so than Smotrich’s. I will demand a retroactive French law,” Ben Gvir said.
Ben Gvir said he did not believe that the law would be overturned by the legal system.
“I believe this will surely pass the High Court’s test. The judges of the High Court, and don’t forget that I am a lawyer, will understand the logic and the purpose [of the law],” Ben Gvir said. Prior to entering the Knesset, the ultranationalist was a lawyer specializing in the defense of Jewish terror suspects.
Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, part of the Religious Zionism alliance, did not deny he made the comments.
Netanyahu has claimed that he will not allow his trial to be canceled, charging instead that the prosecution’s case is crumbling.
Criticism of the courts and law enforcement by the right has ramped up in recent years as Netanyahu stands trial for graft and claims, without evidence, that the charges are part of an effort by political rivals, prosecutors and the media to push him from power.
Netanyahu, who is charged with fraud of breach and trust in three cases as well as bribery in one of them, denies wrongdoing.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar was quick to slam Ben Gvir’s plan, saying it would create a “paradise for governmental corruption.”
“The Netanyahu bloc is coordinated: the abolition of the trial and the establishment of the Bibi Republic — a paradise for governmental corruption, where the Knesset and the government will be refuges for criminals,” Sa’ar tweeted, using the Likud leader’s nickname.
The report came hours after Ben Gvir said that he was unhappy with the conduct of Netanyahu and believed he could be sidelined after the election in favor of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity party.
“I have a hard time with this conduct because in the end I put myself on the line for him,” Ben Gvir told the Ynet news site.
“Whether it’s because of the union I formed with [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel] Smotrich or because of my infinite love for him. He knows that I love him more than many Knesset members from the Likud party,” Ben Gvir said.
Ben Gvir and Netanyahu reportedly agreed not to target each other’s voters. However, as election day nears both sides have been scrambling for Knesset seats.
The extremist lawmaker said that while he would continue working toward the formation of a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, he believed there was a chance he could be jettisoned in favor of Gantz’s center-right National Unity party if the electoral math did not go in his favor.
“I’m not naive. I know that if I get less than Gantz, they might prefer Gantz over me,” he said.
Gantz and Netanyahu have both vowed not to sit with each other in a government after the election.
“If the Likud party has started to siphon off seats, it could be that someone there is planning a government with Gantz,” Ben Gvir said.
Many of the recent polls show no or little change to the size of the blocs but, instead, internal movement as voters shift allegiance between parties.
Most polls, while unreliable, show Ben Gvir’s party winning more seats than Gantz’s.
“[Netanyahu] told me on countless occasions that I’m the only one who brings in young voters from outside the [right-wing] bloc, that he sees it in all his polls. So it’s possible that he has one of his advisers there who is pushing him toward a different plan,” Ben Gvir said.
While Ben Gvir and Netanyahu meet regularly, the Likud leader has been careful to ensure the two are not photographed together.
Ben Gvir also referred to the Saturday comments by MK Ram Ben Barak from Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, who evoked Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler while hitting out at a potential government that Netanyahu could form with the far-right.
“You can tell yourself politics is politics, but Yair Lapid should have ousted him at that moment,” Ben Gvir.
In a separate interview with Radio Galey Israel, Netanyahu blamed the media for the rise of Ben Gvir, whose entrance into the Knesset Netanyahu himself engineered and who the opposition leader has said “certainly can” be a minister in his potential cabinet.
“Why does the media build up Ben Gvir like this, have you asked yourself? Because they know what Lapid’s plan is — taking seats from Likud for Ben Gvir is [the equivalent of] giving seats to Lapid. There is no doubt that I am embracing them right now — there is no other government except a [right-wing] government,” Netanyahu said.
The final television network polls before the November 1 election have all predicted that Netanyahu’s religious-right bloc will fall just short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Netanyahu’s Likud was projected to win 30-31 seats, and be the largest party, in the three polls.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was seen set to win 24-27 seats, while the far-right Religious Zionism, aligned with Netanyahu’s bloc, was predicted to be the third-largest party in the Knesset with 14-15 seats.
In a bid to improve his chances of returning to power before the previous election, Netanyahu orchestrated a merger deal with Religious Zionism that ensured the entry of Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset. He worked to encourage a similar agreement ahead of the upcoming November 1 election.
Ben Gvir is No. 2 on the Religious Zionism slate, positioning himself to receive a senior cabinet posting if Netanyahu manages to form the kind of hard-right, religious coalition on which he has been campaigning.
Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir has also been convicted on terror charges, though he insists he has become more moderate in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as the Kach founder.
Ben Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for holding a sign at a protest reading: “Expel the Arab enemy.”
Until it began to harm him politically, he kept a picture of Baruch Goldstein on a wall of his Hebron home. Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. Recently, Ben Gvir said he no longer considers Goldstein a “hero.”
Last month, a Knesset candidate for Otzma Yehudit was caught on hidden camera saying his party’s recent moderation of its extremist positions was a “trick” in order to enter the Knesset, implying members actually hold far more extreme ideologies.