President asks Ben Gvir to ‘calm stormy waters,’ serve interests of whole population

In meeting with incoming police minister, Herzog notes many across Israel and Jewish world have deep concerns over new government; Ben Gvir responds, ‘I’ll serve the entire nation’

President Isaac Herzog (left) meets with Otzma Yehudit party head MK Itamar Ben Gvir, December 28, 2022. (President's Office)
President Isaac Herzog (left) meets with Otzma Yehudit party head MK Itamar Ben Gvir, December 28, 2022. (President's Office)

President Isaac Herzog expressed his “deep concern” to far-right Oztma Yehudit party head Itamar Ben Gvir in a meeting on Wednesday, imploring the controversial lawmaker to “calm the stormy waters” and show sensitivity to different groups, “especially the LGBT community and the Arab population.”

A statement released by Herzog’s office said the president presented Ben Gvir with “voices from large sections of the nation and the Jewish world,” all of whom had conveyed their concern to the president. It did not, however, specify which groups or leaders he had spoken to.

“The president emphasized to Ben Gvir that his role, and the role of all elements of the future coalition, is to work for all sections of the nation, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence,” the statement read.

In response to the president’s cautionary comments on Wednesday, Ben Gvir, who will serve as the police minister in the incoming government, assured the president that his “top priority is to serve the entire nation” and “serve as the national security minister for the whole of Israeli society.”

Amid fears the LGBT and Arab populations will suffer discrimination under the incoming government, Ben Gvir told Herzog that he had spoken to his counterparts in the far-right Religious Zionism party and said they “do not intend to exclude or harm any population groups.”

“The new government will pursue a broad national policy for the sake of all parts of Israeli society,” a statement quoted Ben Gvir as saying.

Multiple parties in the incoming government have a history of homophobic and racist comments.

Noam MK Avi Maoz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich has previously boasted of being a “proud homophobe,” and the Noam party, whose leader Avi Maoz is set to take up a deputy minister role in the Prime Minister’s Office, has said it will work to ban the Jerusalem pride parade and has encouraged supporters to “fight” against the LGBT community.

Ben Gvir is a former supporter of the Kach political party led by late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, which was barred from the Knesset for inciting racism against Arabs. Ben Gvir has distanced himself from his former beliefs.

Although his role as head of state is largely symbolic, Herzog has become increasingly involved in political issues in recent days as he attempts to steer the country through a period of severe political and ideological polarization.

Legislation was passed Wednesday granting Ben Gvir the authority to direct general police policy and to outline “general principles for action.” He can also influence policy relating to investigations, after consulting with the police commissioner and hearing the attorney general’s opinion.

The law was insisted upon by Ben Gvir as a condition for joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, one of several far-reaching demands from the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties that will partner with Netanyahu’s Likud in the new coalition.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a ceremony on the second night the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, December 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report. 

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