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Ben Gvir after talks, 1st picture with Netanyahu: ‘Full right’ coalition on its way

Far-right Otzma Yehudit leader with criminal past aiming to be public security minister; police chief: ‘Whatever is decided, we’ll go with the flow’

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks to Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (second from right) for informal coalition talks at a Likud party office in Tel Aviv on November 7, 2022. (Courtesy)
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks to Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (second from right) for informal coalition talks at a Likud party office in Tel Aviv on November 7, 2022. (Courtesy)

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu met Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir for informal coalition talks in Tel Aviv on Monday.

The two were pictured for the first time together after Netanyahu refused to publicly appear alongside the far-right lawmaker during the election campaign, most notably during a post-Simchat Torah event in Kfar Chabad.

Ben Gvir said afterward that “a full, full right-wing government” was on the way.

“The meeting was held in a good atmosphere. We are on our way to establishing a full, full right-wing government, that will look people in the eye, some of whom are afraid to walk around the Negev and Galilee, return their security, and return their governance. We have a lot of work,” Ben Gvir said in a statement following the meeting.

Netanyahu long seemed averse to Ben Gvir, and once said he would not allow him to be a minister in a government he forms, but recently changed his tune.

Ben Gvir requested an “expanded” role as public security minister — a job that includes oversight of the police — relative to the powers held by current minister Omer Barlev. Netanyahu said last week he was a candidate for the post.

Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai speaks during a ceremony after a large police operation against illegal gun dealers, in Ma’ale Adumim, September 7, 2022. (Hakoon/Flash90)

The Otzma Yehudit chair requested either the role of education or transportation minister for Yitzhak Wasserlauf, no. 5 on the Religious Zionism list, and demanded that written assurance be given that the future coalition will carry out justice and governance reform, otherwise “there is no reason to enter the government.”

Kobi Shabtai, the police commissioner, reportedly accused Ben Gvir of fanning the flames of internal unrest during May 2021’s deadly violence in Arab-Jewish cities. On Monday, asked about his relations with Ben Gvir, Shabtai said, “The government will choose who it chooses [as public security minister]… Whatever is decided, we’ll go with the flow. I have no problems with anybody.”

Addressing a ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of prime minister Yizhak Rabin, Merav Schreiber, principal of the Neta’im School in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, said that the appointment of Ben Gvir would lead to the next political assassination.

“I’m sorry, I am shaking. If this person, who will probably be appointed public security minister, who chased after Rabin, tore off the emblem of his car and even said he could get to him, gets what he wants, not only have we not learned anything but we will not be far away today from the next political murder,” Schreiber said.

Kan news reported Sunday that alongside the post of education minister for his faction, Ben Gvir wants the secular school curriculum to undergo an overhaul to boost studies of Jewish history and heritage.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 news reported that Ben Gvir would seek to impose tougher conditions on security prisoners — who are predominantly Palestinian terror convicts.

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit ran on a joint ticket with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism in the election. The pair vowed on Sunday to conduct joint negotiations to enter the next government, promising not to split up. Avi Maoz, chair of the anti-LGBT Noam faction which also ran under Religious Zionism, said Sunday that he would be conducting his own separate coalition negotiations.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (L) at an election campaign event in Sderot, October 26, 2022 (Flash90)

Nevertheless, Netanyahu met with Smotrich alone on Sunday. The Likud chair also began informal talks with the leaders of United Torah Judaism’s two factions, Moshe Gafni and Yitzhak Goldknopf, though he has yet to officially receive the mandate to form a government from President Isaac Herzog.

Many Western allies have expressed grave concern over the prospect of the extreme-right firebrand Ben Gvir holding a cabinet position in Netanyahu’s expected future government.

Axios reported last week that US officials are likely to boycott Ben Gvir if he is handed a cabinet posting, and many Diaspora Jewish groups have expressed alarm at the ascent of the far-right and in particular at the prospect of Ben Gvir joining the cabinet.

In past election campaigns, Netanyahu said Ben Gvir — who has been convicted for incitement to violence, has repeatedly waved his gun around during confrontations, and has said he would encourage Arab citizens to emigrate — was not fit to hold a cabinet post. Last month, amid Ben Gvir’s growing popularity in polls, he backtracked, saying the MK could “certainly” hold a ministerial position in his next government.

In a piece written for the Israel Hayom daily on Monday, Ben Gvir appealed to his “brethren on the left” to give him a chance, responding to fears among liberals that the far-right lawmaker would enact radical policies if he gains an influential position in the government.

“If you allow us to get closer, if you listen to what we have to say, you will discover that we are all brothers. You will discover that we agree on 90% of the issues and that the message that we bring and the things we will do are for you just as much as they are for us,” he wrote.

Ben Gvir rebuffed claims he would pursue policies of religious coercion, noting secular members of his party, Zvika Fogel and Almog Cohen, and asserted that he would keep participants of gay pride marches safe, “even if I don’t like the parade.” He also emphasized the need to take action against rampant crime in the Arab community.

“I hear all those who bring up the subjects of the emblem on Yitzhak Rabin’s car (27 years ago!) and the poster of Baruch Goldstein. But let me remind you of the long path I have taken since then and how I have changed: I have matured, moderated, and come to the understanding that life is complex,” Ben Gvir wrote.

Itamar Ben Gvir seen holding up an ornament from prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car, in an October 1995 interview. (screen capture: YouTube/IBA)

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

Mickey Gitzin, head of the left-wing New Israel Fund, slammed Ben Gvir’s article, arguing that it comes from one of “worst inciters” and painting it as “an attempt to calm everyone before Israel becomes Hungary,” a reference to that European nation’s erosion of democracy under Viktor Orban.

He claimed that Ben Gvir would take steps to limit the left’s ability to protest the government and said his only interest in the constituency was its tax money to support West Bank settlements.

At the same time, recently elected Likud lawmaker Tally Gotliv tweeted that it was “embarrassing” that some right-wing lawmakers were “kowtowing” to the left following the elections.

“Do you want to govern? Haven’t you learned that this can be done only through strength, not by writing letters to Israelis and by flattery to the left?” she wrote.

President Isaac Herzog’s office said Sunday that he would begin holding official consultations with party leaders on Wednesday at his residence in Jerusalem, with the meetings broadcast live to the public. He is then expected to formally task Netanyahu with the job of forming the next government.

The decisive win for Likud and its allied parties in last week’s election makes Netanyahu the clear choice.

Netanyahu’s bloc won 64 seats out of 120, and is expected to form a government with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and UTJ, as well as with the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

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