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Ben Gvir toning down extremist views in pre-election ‘trick,’ says his party member

Otzma Yehudit party member Almog Cohen during an election campaign conference in Ramat Gan, September 4, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party member Almog Cohen during an election campaign conference in Ramat Gan, September 4, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A candidate in the far-right Religious Zionism party is recorded telling activists that the extremist party No. 2 Itamar Ben Gvir has toned down his racist anti-Arab rhetoric only as part of a “trick” to avoid being disqualified from running in the November 1 election, likening the scheme to a Trojan Horse.

Ben Gvir, the leader of the increasingly popular Otzma Yehudit faction within Religious Zionism, is a longtime follower of racist rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated deporting Israel’s Arab population.

Since becoming a lawmaker, he has toned down that rhetoric, replacing his common chant of “Death to Arabs” with “Death to terrorists” and distancing himself from Kahane’s legacy.

Channel 13 airs footage filmed by a staff member posing as an Otzma Yehudit activist at a recent campaign event, and joined other activists who asked Almog Cohen — Otzma Yehudit’s No. 3, who is seventh on Religious Zionism’s electoral slate and is highly likely to become an MK — why Ben Gvir has distanced himself from the faction’s founding ideology.

Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party speaks during a ceremony in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the killing of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. The sign behind him reads, “Kahane was right!” (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I’m saying a simple thing: All is fair in love and war,” Cohen answers. “Those who don’t use tricks, lose. Believe me, nobody here is more right-wing than me. [But] there are journalists here.”

He then describes the concept of a Trojan Horse, a huge hollow wooden horse said to have been given as a gift by the Greeks to Troy thousands of years ago, but which contained many Greek fighters who later emerged to defeat their rivals.

His apparent meaning is that Ben Gvir is purposefully concealing his true views and plans in order to avoid being disqualified and repelling more moderate voters, and will then implement his actual plans when he becomes minister, something senior members in opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have said will happen.

“In the end, there is a very clear and very simple question: do you want to be right or to be smart?,” Cohen is filmed saying. “You can be right for many years, you’ll even die being in the right, but if you’re smart, you’ll change [your tactic]. And Itamar is smart, he already changed. Look at the discourse today. A year back, who would’ve dared think 100-150 people would come here [to the campaign rally]?”

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