Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a senior member of the ruling Likud party, said Sunday morning that Itamar Ben Gvir, a disciple of the late far-right extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, was an “unacceptable” candidate to join the next coalition.
Netanyahu earlier in the week brokered a merger between Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party — which opinion polls suggest could see Ben Gvir win a seat in the next Knesset. The Otzma Yehudit leader is in the third slot on the merged slate, which two polls Friday showed clearing the Knesset threshold and heading for 4-5 seats in the March 23 elections.
“I do not see myself sitting in government with Ben Gvir. I oppose this and it is also unrealistic, ” Steinitz told the Kan public broadcaster.
Asked if he was ruling out any cooperation with Otzma, Steinitz said, “Ben Gvir is unacceptable because of his positions and statements.”
On Saturday, New Hope chairman Gidon Sa’ar ruled out Ben Gvir as a member of the coalition he hopes to form after the March election.
“Ben Gvir will not sit in my coalition,” Sa’ar said in a Channel 12 news interview. “This is a man who put up a picture in his living room of someone who murdered 29 people at prayer. Netanyahu has reached the point where that’s his way to muster a coalition — with extremists like Ben Gvir.”
Sa’ar was referring to the fact that ahead of the March 2020 election, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett vetoed Ben Gvir’s inclusion in his right-wing slate because, among other reasons, Ben Gvir had a portrait of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his living room. Goldstein in 1994 murdered 29 Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Ben Gvir reportedly took down the portrait in an unsuccessful attempt to mollify Bennett.
Otzma Yehudit is made up of followers of Kahane, an American-Israeli former MK whose Kach party was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s — the first instance of a party being banned for racism.
Otzma Yehudit supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty they wish to extend throughout the West Bank.
Ben Gvir’s former running mate, ex-MK Michael Ben-Ari, was disqualified from running for the Knesset over accusations of racism.
A similar merger two years ago was denounced by major US Jewish organizations AIPAC and the AJC. AIPAC called Otzma Yehudit a “racist and reprehensible party.”