Netanyahu: Ben Gvir unfit to be in my cabinet, but will be in coalition

Netanyahu tells Channel 12 that he wants Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, to be a part of his coalition after the March 23 election, but says he “is not fit” to be a member of his cabinet.

He won’t be a minister, he won’t be in government and he won’t be a Knesset committee head, the PM says.

Netanyahu orchestrated a deal between Ben Gvir and Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich for a joint run that recent polls have shown will ensure the joint slate will pass the Knesset electoral threshold. Netanyahu hopes to thus avoid a loss of right-wing votes and bolster his chances of forming a government after the election.

Asked repeatedly why Ben Gvir cannot be a cabinet member if he is good enough to be a part of his coalition, Netanyahu refuses to answer. Asked if he believes Ben Gvir, who has called to expel “disloyal” Israeli Arabs, is racist, Netanyahu says: “His positions are not mine.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But you brokered the alliance that is likely to see Ben Gvir get elected, interviewer Yonit Levy notes. “That’s legitimate?”

“Certainly, I want to bring the votes,” he replies.

But he adds, “Arab doctors and nurses, Israeli citizens, took care of my parents and my wife’s parents. I won’t forget that… It’s fantastic. We’re changing Israeli society,” he says, including with greater funding and security for the Israeli Arabs.

Ben Gvir’s views on Israeli Arabs, he reiterates, are not views he shares.

Asked about Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, and the possibility of his support for a Netanyahu coalition, he says: [My coalition] won’t rely for its majority on anybody who opposes Zionism. I won’t do that…. I’m competing against Mansour Abbas for [Arab] votes. I’m seeking Arab votes. When I walk along the beach at Caesarea, young Arabs from [nearby] Jisr, call out to me “Abu Yair” [father of Yair]…”

He says their support brings tears to his eyes.

“I say to them, why vote for extremist [Arab parties] who have done nothing for you? … [Mansour Abbas] is not my partner.”

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