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Deputy FM: Israel won’t get US backing if Ben Gvir, Smotrich manage the country

Idan Roll tells high school students Israel’s global standing will suffer if far right Religious Zionism is part of next coalition; polls show it on track to be third-biggest party

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll attends a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll attends a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll on Thursday said Israel’s international standing will suffer a blow if far-right political leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir become part of the next government.

“If we let people like Ben Gvir and Smotrich manage the country, we won’t get the backing of the United States, the economic support or the strength to protect the State of Israel,” Roll, a member of Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, said at Blich High School in Ramat Gan.

Ben Gvir visited the high school last week, eliciting intense controversy.

Roll said after the visit, “I told the Blich high school students this morning that Ben Gvir came to them to make headlines, but I’m here to remind them that the rights they have been given can be taken away.”

“After years of a joint struggle for the rights of women and the gay community, for every person that believes in freedom and equality, it’s all of our responsibility to prevent this from happening,” Roll said.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party is projected to become the third largest faction in the Knesset after the November 1 elections with around 13 seats, according to polls, which are often unreliable.

Smotrich has said the inflammatory Ben Gvir will be a senior minister in a potential future government led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The party’s ticket for the election will include the anti-LGBTQ Noam party, after Netanyahu pressured the parties to merge.

Smotrich rejoined with Ben Gvir’s extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party ahead of the upcoming elections. While the parties ran on a combined slate in the past, Otzma Yehudit has now secured far greater representation on the list, as opinion polls have consistently predicted significantly greater success for Ben Gvir than for Smotrich if they run separately.

Smotrich has spoken against the gay community and recently urged a ban on Israel’s current Arab political parties.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, left, speaks during a press conference ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, July 11, 2022; MK Bezalel Smotrich, right, leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

In recent public remarks, he has sought to downplay his extremist views, saying he isn’t in favor of expelling all Arabs — only terrorists. However, analysts have pointed out that he regularly refers to many Arab public figures with no history of terror-related activities, including elected lawmakers and party leaders, as “terrorists.”

Until it began to harm him politically, Ben Gvir also 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. During the visit this month to the high school in Ramat Gan, Ben Gvir said he no longer considers Goldstein a “hero.”

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, a Jewish supremacist anti-miscegenation group, and the virulently homophobic Noam.

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