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Far-right Ben Gvir says he’ll demand to be ‘Negev and Galilee security minister’

‘Someone has to sort it out and that person is me’: Otzma Yehudit head says he’ll join government if put in charge of regions home to large proportion of country’s Arab citizens

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, said on Saturday that he would condition his joining a governing coalition after the upcoming election on him being made a minister in charge of security in regions with a high population of Arab Israelis.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Ben Gvir said he had initially planned on asking for the chairmanship of the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee but, following “pleas from soldiers,” he has decided that he will now demand to be made “minister for the security of the Galilee and the Negev.”

There is no such ministry, but in the past positions have been created as part of coalition-building.

He said that there was “complete anarchy” in the regions in the north and south of the country where a large proportion of Arab Israelis live and that “security must be restored there.”

“It’s the wild west there. Someone has to sort it out, and that person is me,” he claimed.

Netanyahu orchestrated a deal between the Kahane disciple Ben Gvir and Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich for a joint run that recent polls have predicted will pass the Knesset electoral threshold. Netanyahu hopes to thus avoid a loss of right-wing votes and bolster his chances of forming a government after the election.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Recent polls show that Ben Gvir could have negotiating power as Netanyahu tries to reach a 61-seat majority, however the prime minister said last month that although Ben Gvir, who is in the third slot on the Religious Zionism slate, would be a part of his coalition after the election, he “is not fit” to be a member of his cabinet.

Asked repeatedly why Ben Gvir cannot be a cabinet member if he is good enough to be a part of his coalition, Netanyahu refused to answer. Asked if he believes Ben Gvir, who has called for the expulsion of “disloyal” Arab Israelis, is racist, Netanyahu said: “His positions are not mine.”

Ben Gvir said Saturday he would recommend Netanyahu to form the coalition after the March 23 vote.

“He really is in a different league,” Ben Gvir said, adding that he would not serve in a coalition under either Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, and that Yamina chair Naftali Bennett “cannot be a prime minister with ten seats.”

New elections, the fourth since April 2019, were called in December after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Gvir also reiterated his support for a law granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity in his corruption case and stopping his trial. Last week he said he would only join the coalition if it committed to passing such a law.

“The prime minister and ministers should have immunity… so that they will not be held captive by the attorney general and the State Attorney’s Office,” he told Channel 12.

“There is no such thing in any normal country. Only in Israel does one person have all the power to decide who will be prime minister or minister,” he said, presumably referring to Mandelblit or some other legal official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 8, 2021. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases and bribery in one of them. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed that the charges are an effort by political rivals, the media, law enforcement, and prosecutors to remove him from office.

Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity from indictment in the cases early last year.

In 2019, speculation swirled that Netanyahu was conditioning entry to a government on potential coalition parties’ support for a law sheltering a serving prime minister from prosecution.

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