UAE embassy hosts Ben Gvir at reception, despite earlier warning against him

Far-right lawmaker says ties with Abu Dhabi show it’s possible to make peace ‘without concessions’; Emirati foreign minister had warned Netanyahu about his inclusion in coalition

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a suspected terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a suspected terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir attended a United Arab Emirates reception in Tel Aviv on Thursday, despite a previous warning from the UAE against his inclusion in the government.

The extremist politician, expected to become national security minister in the next government, was invited to the National Day event hosted by UAE Ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja at the Hilton hotel.

The festive event marked the 51st anniversary of the UAE’s unification.

Ben Gvir shook hands with the ambassador during the event, which was also attended by presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel and the UAE normalized ties in 2020, under Netanyahu’s previous government, as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

“The event today teaches that it’s possible to make true peace without giving up territory and without surrendering to terror, just making peace between people who like each other, without making concessions,” Ben Gvir said at the reception, according to Ynet.

He posted a photo of his meeting with the ambassador, saying, “This is what real peace looks like.”

Netanyahu was recognized as a guest of honor at the event.

“The Abraham Accords are not just a piece of paper between governments. They are a warm peace between our people that strengthens security, cooperation and stability in the region,” Netanyahu said.

The UAE ambassador draped celebratory scarves on Netanyahu and his wife while onstage at the reception.

“The Emirates are here to show that unity equals prosperity. We will continue to use diplomacy to deepen connections through friendship and mutual respect,” Al Khaja said.

Ministers from the outgoing coalition, Knesset members from all parties, foreign diplomats and business people also attended the event. Prime Minister Yair Lapid did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict, Haaretz reported.

Ben Gvir inked a deal Friday to join a government under Netanyahu and his Likud party, becoming head of the new National Security Ministry, a planned portfolio that will include overseeing the police and Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Ben Gvir is a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, and for a long time had a picture of the perpetrator of the 1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre on his wall.

Like Kahane, Ben Gvir has been convicted on terror charges, though he insists he has moderated in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as the founder of the banned Kach party.

Ben Gvir was convicted of incitement to racism in 2007 for holding a sign at a protest reading: “Expel the Arab enemy.”

Before the elections, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed warned Netanyahu against including Ben Gvir and his political partner Bezalel Smotrich in his government, a senior official familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The message was passed along during a meeting that took place in September when bin Zayed was visiting Israel, the official said, confirming a report in the Axios news site.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks to Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir (second from right) for informal coalition talks at a Likud party office in Tel Aviv on November 7, 2022. (Courtesy)

Bin Zayed warned that the inclusion of such extremist lawmakers in Netanyahu’s government risked upending ties with the UAE in addition to the Abraham Accords more broadly, the official said.

Ben Gvir ran in the election as part of Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism alliance, which has since split into three separate factions in a pre-planned move. All three of these far-right parties have inked coalition deals with Netanyahu’s Likud, which is still holding talks with a pair of allied ultra-Orthodox factions before it can form a government.

Ties between Israel and the UAE have flourished since the signing of the Abraham Accords, with thousands of Israeli tourists visiting the Gulf state, and the countries exchanging diplomatic and security support.

Trade between the UAE and Israel is expected to reach more than $2 billion in 2022, well up from the $1.2 billion last year.

The accords also established diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and Bahrain and paved the way for normalization with Morocco months later.

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