Leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir announced on Sunday night that he will demand to be appointed public security minister — which oversees the police — in coalition negotiations following the upcoming election.
Ben Gvir, who was not drafted for mandatory military service by the IDF because of his extremist activities, claimed hundreds of police officers had appealed to him in recent weeks to “save the police.” Therefore, he said at a press conference, “I intend to demand the post of public security minister in the right-wing government that, with God’s help, will be established.”
The Religious Zionism party in which Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit outfit is running has soared in the polls in recent weeks and looks set to be the second-largest party in the right-wing, religious bloc after Likud, following Tuesday’s election.
In response, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an implicit call for right-wing voters not to vote for Religious Zionism that “Ben Gvir will only be a minister if I form the government, and for that to happen the Likud has to be bigger than [Yair] Lapid,” referring to the prime minister’s Yesh Atid party.
The National Unity Party headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz asserted in response that Ben Gvir would certainly get the post if Netanyahu regains power, and warned that the far-right leader would “set fire to the country from the inside.”
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Ben Gvir cited a series of Palestinian terror attacks committed in recent months in cities around the country as the motivation for his demand, including the shooting near the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba on Saturday night in which one Israeli man was killed and four wounded.
He also pointed to the Palestinian ramming attacks on Sunday in the West Bank in which five soldiers were injured.
“Our enemies have gone out over the last year on a campaign of murder in Hadera, Ariel, Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, and all round the country with the goal of massacring Jews,” said the Otzma Yehudit leader, accusing Lapid, Gantz and Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev of “falling asleep on the watch.”
Twenty-five Israelis and foreign nationals, including civilians and security personnel, have been killed in Palestinian attacks in 2022, compared with 21 in 2021, and that figure includes 13 people killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
In his address on Sunday, Ben Gvir laid out a 10-point plan for dealing with the spike in terrorism, including arming reserve soldiers; relaxing open fire rules to allow police and soldiers to use live fire at rioters throwing stones and petrol bombs; and passing legislation granting police and soldiers immunity from criminal prosecution for any action they might take while on operational duty.
The Otzma Yehudit leader also vowed to impose the death penalty on Palestinian terrorists; make prison conditions for Palestinian terrorists tougher; pass legislation to expel from the country “terror supporters” and terrorists; establish special police units to deal with “nationalist crimes”; establish a “national guard” made of, in the first stage, 10 border police battalions; and double the number of police “on the ground.”
Ben Gvir had until Sunday refrained from explicitly stating that he sought the public security ministry, but his unrelenting focus on security issues throughout the campaign strongly indicated it was his most coveted cabinet position.
The far-right MK has, in the last year, twice pulled his personal sidearm in recent confrontations, one with Arab security guards in a Tel Aviv parking lot in December last year, and earlier this month, when confronted by Palestinian protestors during a tour of an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
As public security minister, Ben Gvir would have control over police policy on the Temple Mount, where activists have increasingly clamored for expanded Jewish rights at the holy site. The status quo on the Temple Mount formulated in 1967 has long been to ban public Jewish prayer and the use of prayer items, such prayer shawls and tefillin.
Former public security minister Gilad Erdan eased the restriction on Jewish prayer somewhat during his tenure from 2015 to 2020 by allowing Jewish visitors to pray quietly on the eastern side of the Temple Mount esplanade without being arrested by the police.
Ben Gvir, a long-standing advocate for expanded Jewish prayer rights at the site, has said in recent interviews that he would create “full equality” for all worshipers, implying that he would allow public Jewish prayer at the site.
As well as being the holiest place in Judaism, the Temple Mount is also the site of the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest shrines. Actions by Israeli police on the site have been followed by severe Palestinian violence on several occasions in recent years, including the conflict in May 2021 between Israel and Hamas.
Yesh Atid said in response to the Otzma leader’s announcement that Netanyahu would be “the captive of Ben Gvir in the extremist and benighted government that he will establish,” and noted that Ben Gvir was in the past convicted of incitement to racism and recently declared his desire to halt Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
The left-wing Meretz party responded to Ben Gvir’s announcement by posting video footage of the Otzma Yehudit MK from 1995 dressing up as Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish terrorist who carried out the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians.