A former right-wing Jewish extremist-turned-reporter has claimed that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir paid teenagers in the past to vandalize Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In an interview with the New Yorker published Tuesday, photojournalist Gilad Sade said that when he was 14, Ben Gvir also took him to raid a UN compound in East Jerusalem, instructing him to break in through a fence and damage vehicles inside.
He said the events happened around the late 1990s and early 2000s at a time when Ben Gvir, now 46 and the head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, was deeply involved in the far-right Kach movement started by assassinated extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, a former MK.
Sade also tweeted about the alleged UN base attack, writing “the use of me as a child and teenager and other minors from ruined homes kept his [Ben Gvir’s] hands and the hands of the Kahanists clean while they ruined the lives of countless people who carry these [criminal] files to this day.”
Sade, who is based in Europe, told the magazine that he had been a close confidant of Ben Gvir, whom he described as “like an older brother to me.” Having rejected his past ideology, he now fears returning to Israel due to possible revenge by Jewish extremist groups for speaking out.
He recalled an incident in 2001 after the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group announced it had a video showing the capture of three Israeli soldiers a year earlier in a cross-border raid. United Nations peacekeepers in the area also had a video related to the kidnapping but would not give an unedited version to Israel, which provoked outrage among the Israeli right.
Sade said Ben Gvir told him to get a ski mask and then drove him to a UN base in East Jerusalem. Ben Gvir, who was about 24 at the time, handed him a wire cutter and indicated to him where he could penetrate the surrounding fence, he claimed.
“He sent me to fucking break into a UN base in Jerusalem and destroy their cars,” Sade said. “I was fucking fourteen! I could have been killed!”
Sade said he punctured the tires of as many cars as he could find and sprayed slogans such as “UN out” and “Kahane was right” on walls. He exited the site and Ben Gvir collected him.
He also said that Ben Gvir would pay him and other teenage boys up to $60 for a night of spraying slogans. Sade claimed that Ben Gvir encouraged the slashing of car tires and smashing windshields, an accusation the report noted that Ben Gvir denies.
Ben Gvir declined to be interviewed for the New Yorker article, but aides said the accusations were false.
Sade said that the vandalism was usually focused in East Jerusalem and Hebron, but sometimes they would use a rented car to drive around the West Bank for a night, damaging property.
The report said Sade played a recording of a man described as still close to Ben Gvir confirming that he too had been paid to spray graffiti when he was a teenager.
Dvir Kariv, a former Shin Bet security service agent, told the New Yorker that far-right extremists would use teens for vandalism attacks because they knew it would present challenges for law enforcers if they were caught.
They “were very aware that for us to interrogate a minor is much more complicated,” Kariv said.
Sade claimed he, in particular, had been exploited by the Kach movement in other ways too. When he was 13, Ben Gvir sent him to spray graffiti at a Jerusalem intersection but he was caught.
During the police investigation, he discovered an unknown family history, including that his name was not Gilad Pollak as he thought, and that he was adopted.
He later uncovered a Kach fund-raising video of himself, age 3, being handed to leader Kahane with the claim that his biological father was a Palestinian and that Kach had saved the toddler and his mother from an Arab village.
However, Sade said in the interview that his mother later admitted the video and background story was fake. She was a single mother from a traditional Jewish family whose own mother advised her to seek help from Kach. The organization then persuaded her to make the promotional video.
“They exploited her, and they exploited me,” Sade said. “Beyond being dangerous, these people are sophisticated. They’ve learned how to keep their own hands clean while leaving scorched earth under the feet of other people.”
Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of Kahane, a former Knesset member whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir was convicted in the past of supporting a terror organization, though he insists he has moderated in recent years.
Despite more recently distancing himself from Kahane’s most overtly racist and discriminatory views, Ben Gvir, has extolled Kahane’s virtues and praised him for many of his activities.