UAE invites Ben Gvir to Tel Aviv reception, despite having warned against him

Emirates’ foreign minister had told incoming PM Netanyahu that including far-right leader and his partner Smotrich in government could harm ties

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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

Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir, a controversial far-right figure, was invited to the United Arab Emirates National Day reception Thursday evening in Tel Aviv, his office told The Times of Israel.

The likely incoming national security minister would like to attend, said his spokesperson, but his decision will depend on his schedule.

The formal event at the Hilton’s grand ballroom is hosted by UAE Ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja.

Ben Gvir inked a deal Friday to join a government under presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, becoming head of the brand 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 who for a long time had a picture of the perpetrator of the 1994 Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre on his wall.

Like the late 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.

UAE ambassador to Israel Mohamed al Khajah at the opening ceremony of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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 opposition leader 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.

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.

In a bid to improve his chances of returning to power before elections, the Likud leader orchestrated a merger deal that ensured the entry of Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzma Yehudit into the Knesset.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) welcomes his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan at Sde Boker in southern Israel, on March 27, 2022, ahead of the Negev Summit. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel and the UAE normalized ties in 2020, under Netanyahu’s previous government, as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords, which also established diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and Bahrain. The accord paved the way for normalization with Morocco months later.

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.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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