Far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir campaigned from the streets of a small kibbutz in northern Israel Thursday, after a planned appearance at a community building was canceled by members who opposed hosting the firebrand Otzma Yehudit leader.
Speaking through a megaphone and microphone amid protests against his visit, Ben Gvir railed against what he termed as efforts to silence him during a foray into the relatively liberal bastion of Ayelet Hashahar.
The ultra-nationalist MK had initially been scheduled to appear at an election event at the kibbutz’s community building, after being invited by some of the kibbutz members. However, the kibbutz’s governing board banned Otzma from using the building.
Ben Gvir showed up anyway, marching through the kibbutz’s streets with a phalanx of security, media and about 20 flag-waving supporters. He eventually spoke from a podium set up outside in front of a campaign banner.
“We organized a conference here at the request of dozens of kibbutz members who wanted to hear from us and this caused the kibbutz committee to try and switch us off and shut us up,” said Ben Gvir in his address.
“Freedom of speech is also our freedom,” he declared.
He later tweeted that “I told the leftists clearly: you won’t silence us, we will bring Otzma Yehudit to everywhere in our land.”
בן גביר מגיע לאיילת השחר והקיבוצניקים באטרף. pic.twitter.com/zy4hsgzgEX
— גולן כוחות האופל (@gwln9) October 6, 2022
The Ayelet Hashahar governing committee said it had refused to allow the conference to go ahead since it was organized privately and without coordination with the committee, saying that the kibbutz was not prepared for such an event.
Like the majority of kibbutzes, Ayelet Hashachar leans liberal. In the last elections, nearly 75 percent of 585 ballots cast there went for Blue and White and Labor. Otzma Yehudit received zero votes.
The appearance highly charged the kibbutz, with a number of protesters demonstrating against his visit with signs and yelling for him to “go home.”
He dismissed the protesters as “far left” activists.
“They know that we will win because the time has really come to take back ownership of this country again,” he said.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli had cheered the kibbutz’s decision to cancel the appearance.
“Racism cannot be normalized. Homophobia cannot be normalized. Kahanism cannot be normalized, the same Kahanism that led to the murder of [Yitzhak] Rabin,” she said.
During his address, Ben Gvir focused on familiar talking points: so-called agricultural terrorism — the theft and destruction of agricultural property and produce, often by non-Jews — as well as rules of engagement for IDF soldiers, which he has described as too strict.
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 both Israel and the US.
Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir has also been convicted on terror charges, though he also insists he has moderated in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as the Kach founder. Unlike Kahane, Ben Gvir says he doesn’t support expelling all Arabs from Israel, rather only “terrorists” or those he deems “disloyal.”
Analysts have pointed out though that he regularly refers to many Arab public figures with no history of terror-related activities, including elected lawmakers and party leaders, as “terrorists.”
Ben Gvir is No. 2 on the Religious Zionism list that is projected to win between 12 and 14 seats in the November 1 election, positioning himself to receive a senior cabinet posting if opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu manages to form the kind of hard-right, religious coalition on which he has been campaigning.
Two US congressmen have recently urged Israeli politicians not to legitimize Ben Gvir.
On Thursday, he responded to one of them, California Democrat Brad Sherman, a pro-Israel stalwart, saying he should “check facts” before criticizing or boycotting an “ally.”
“Allies also tend not to intervene in each others’ democratic elections. So here’s a suggestion from an ally of America: Keep your friends close and take care of your enemies,” he tweeted at Sherman in a mixture of Hebrew and English.