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Before Israeli Election, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Fiery Far-right Politician Gains Support

Itaman Ben Gvir

The rest of the Knesset would leave whenever far-right politician Meir Kahane rose to speak after securing the sole seat ever won by his Kach party in 1984. The rabbi’s anti-Arab crusade was dubbed “negative, dangerous, and detrimental” even by the hardline prime minister of the time, Yitzhak Shamir. A few years later, Kach was expelled from politics for inciting racism.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still ongoing after four decades, and Israel’s political landscape is more rightwing than ever. Next week will see the country’s fifth election in less than four years. Itamar Ben-Gvir, a student of Kahane, is on track to become a significant figure in society.

Before Israeli Election, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Fiery Far-right Politician Gains Support

The election is predicted to be extremely tight, just like the previous four that have taken place since 2019; people are still divided over whether former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been dogged by corruption allegations, is qualified to lead the nation.

As the leader of the hardline Likud, Netanyahu has in the past been open to establishing stable coalitions with centrist parties and even Islamists. In order to prevent a sixth election, the veteran leader claims he wants a small, ideologically congruent government this time. The person who can make it happen is Ben-Gvir.

Right-wing political organization Jewish Strength, led by Ben-Gvir, was still on the periphery two years ago, but Ben-Gvir secured a Knesset member as a result of a coalition agreement between tiny extremist parties arranged by Netanyahu prior to the 2021 election.

He has slowly garnered support ever since this summer’s brief coalition government fell apart, grabbing the interest of the Israeli media with his vehement speeches and active campaigning schedule.

He is gaining support from those who had previously supported the now-disbanded Yamina alliance and makes overtures to Likud supporters who are fed up with Israel’s political crises as well as members of the ultra-Orthodox community. The inclusion of an Arab party in the previous cabinet as well as intercommunal rioting on Israeli streets last year stunned the right-wing populace.

According to the most recent polls, Ben-Religious Gvir’s Zionist slate may garner 13 or 14 seats, making it the third-largest party in the Knesset. The most extreme political group in history, Netanyahu’s bloc would overhaul the Israeli judicial system and solidify the occupation of the Palestinian territories if it were to gain a majority.

The atmosphere at the majority of the political gatherings the Guardian has visited over the past two weeks has been dreary and flat because most Israeli politicians and voters are worn out. On the contrary, a Religious Zionist demonstration was held on Wednesday night in the poor town of Sderot in southern Israel.

Pop music blared from a sound system as approximately 100 young men danced and sang when Ben-Gvir and the party leader, Bezalel Smotrich, entered the jam-packed school gymnasium where the majority of the attendees were Modern Orthodox and wore knit kippahs for the males and long skirts for the women. Death to terrorists was chanted by kids in the back row.

“Every time [Arabs] attack a Jewish car, our people, I run and see what’s happening … We need new rules against terrorists, we need to enable all citizens to protect themselves with guns. We need laws to protect soldiers,” Ben-Gvir declared, applauding from the audience.

“Hamas has threatened me, but I am not afraid,” he stated, in reference to the Palestinian militant organization. “We are the owners of this land, the owners of this house.”

Before Israeli Election, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a Fiery Far-right Politician Gains Support

After the ceremony, young people crowded Ben-Gvir and Smotrich for selfies.

He has courage. He is honest and speaks what has to be said about Arabs, according to 20-year-old Noa, who is on leave from the military. “I’ve always supported Netanyahu, but this time I’ll support Ben-Gvir.”

A yeshiva student named Natan, 21, said: “Some of what he says is obviously garbage. Gaza is not going to be retaken by us. But it’s excellent if he can do 85% of what he says he wants to.

Growing up during the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising, shaped Ben-anti-Arab Gvir’s beliefs. He joined the Kach youth organization as a teenager. Three weeks before Yitzhak Rabin was killed, he gained notoriety for threatening the prime minister. He was the son of secular Iraqi Jewish immigrants. Due to his far-right activity, the Israel Defense Forces spared him from military service.

Ben-Gvir, who is now 46, has made a career out of representing Jewish extremists in court and resides in the unrest-plagued West Bank city of Hebron, a key target of the settler movement. He allegedly took down a portrait of terrorist Baruch Goldstein from his living room in 2019 before an unsuccessful bid for the Knesset in an effort to look more moderate.

Ben-Gvir has toned down his language since earning his Knesset seat, but he continues to support expelling what he deems “disloyal” Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of the population. He gained notoriety this month after violent skirmishes in a volatile area of East Jerusalem when he pulled out a gun and yelled at the police to shoot a crowd of Palestinian demonstrators.

Ben-ascension, Gvir’s in the opinion of Dr. As’ad Ghanem, a lecturer in political sciences at the University of Haifa and co-author of Israel in the Post-Oslo Era, is a reflection of widespread authoritarian political trends worldwide. Additionally, the conflict’s recent escalation and the collapse of the two-state peace process are factors.

“Until Oslo [the 1990s peace accords], for Israel the main enemy was always outside. Now, because of the Palestinian Authority and the rise of Islamic movements, the threat is seen as internal,” he said.

“For many Jews, it is seen as a life and death issue. They need to open all the fronts: if there’s no option for two states, they must keep the Palestinians under control, and people feel the best way to do that is strong anti-Palestinian politics.”

The majority of the elderly rally attendees the Guardian met with at Sderot were less enthusiastic about Ben-Gvir than his younger fans.

Boaz, 52, a town council employee, said he would cast his first vote for the Religious Zionists next week—not because of Ben-brash Gvir’s personal appeal, but rather because he could not think of a better alternative.

“There is nowhere else for Jews to go. This is our country and we need to do everything we can to protect it, which is something I don’t think the left understands. I’m from Ethiopia, I could never go back there,” he said.

“I’m not looking for someone who will make promises about the cost of living or jobs or housing,” he said. “I’m looking for a country with a future.”

The Guardian

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