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Far-right MK: Meir Kahane suffered ‘character assassination’ by the media

In his first address before Knesset plenum, Itamar Ben Gvir dismisses dozens of charges against him for incitement, calls for major reforms to Israeli legal system

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir addresses the Knesset plenum on April 26, 2021. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir addresses the Knesset plenum on April 26, 2021. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

The chairman of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben Gvir used his first-ever plenum address as a member of Knesset on Monday to insist that the media had carried out a “character assassination” against his late mentor, the radical rabbi Meir Kahane.

“They carried out character assassination. Yes, Rabbi Kahane, whom [the media] loves to hate. Rabbi Kahane who immigrated from the United States after fighting to combat anti-Semitism there. Rabbi Kahane who gave his life for Soviet Jewry, and did so out of great love for Israel,” said Ben Gvir in praise of the founder of the Kahane-founded Kach movement, which is blacklisted as a terror group in both the US and Israel.

Kahane spoke out against Jewish coexistence with Arabs, whom he claimed were a “cancer” and called for them to be expelled from the State of Israel. He was elected to the Knesset in 1984, but Knesset members across the spectrum would leave when he spoke and his Kach party was subsequently banned by the Knesset as racist; he was therefore barred from running for reelection in 1988. He was assassinated in 1990 in New York by an Egyptian-born American.

MK Meir Kahane, center with beard, votes during the first session of the Knesset in Jerusalem, August 13, 1984. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)

Ben Gvir in recent years has sought to differentiate himself from Kahane, saying that he does not go as far as his spiritual mentor and only supports expelling “disloyal” Arabs, while those who swear allegiance to the Jewish state can be allowed to remain.

Ben Gvir is the No. 3 MK on the far-right Religious Zionism list, which managed to enter the Knesset thanks to a merger orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union party with the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit and the anti-LGBT Noam party.

Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich (L) and candidate Itamar Ben Gvir celebrate at the party headquarters in Modi’in on election night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

The far-right lawmaker went on to lambast former senior officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office, Shai Nitzan and Talia Sasson, for filing “53 unfounded and delusional indictments” against him. Ben Gvir boasted that all but seven of those indictments were dropped. The far-right activist was convicted of incitement to violence and supporting a terror organization in his younger years before he went on to become an attorney known for defending ultranationalist Jews charged with carrying out hate crimes and terror attacks against Palestinians.

“In a normal country, those same lawyers would have been sent home, but in Israel, this duo was allowed to run the country,” Ben Gvir said of Nitzan and Sasson.

The freshman lawmaker said he would work to reform the legal system, particularly by giving the Knesset more power over the appointment of judges, by passing legislation to allow the Knesset to override High Court of Justice rulings and by dividing some of the powers of the attorney general among other officials in the Justice Ministry.

Ben Gvir also vowed to fight against the legitimizing of the Reform movement in Israel; on behalf of IDF soldiers charged with using excessive force against Palestinians; on behalf residents of the south who he said have long suffered due to Bedouin crime, Hamas rocket fire and government neglect; on behalf of the Haredi minority, which he said has become a societal punching bag; on behalf of Jews seeking to pray at the Temple Mount, where the practice is currently outlawed; and on behalf of Israeli residents of South Tel Aviv, who he said have suffered due to the influx of African asylum seekers.

Earlier Monday, Smotrich, the leader of Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party, said that Arab Israelis were only citizens of Israel “for now.”

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