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Itamar Ben Gvir: Kingmaker, Politician, Terrorist Sympathiser

Charlie Burton discusses the latest election in Israel, his fears for democracy, and the Israeli turn to the right.

The Knesset Building (above)

I stand here, writing this article on the 105th anniversary of the Balfour declaration - when the British government vowed to allow the Jews to create an independent state in the historic lands known as Judea. Coincidentally, I stand here on a significant day for Israeli politics; in the aftermath of the 2022 Knesset Elections. I stand here, too, on the advent of the return of Benjamin Netanyahu - a known liar, on trial for 5 counts of corruption. Netanyahu is a dangerous, despicable man, don’t get me wrong, but he is a known quantity, an unabashedly neoconservative politician.

More dangerous, and less well known is Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of Otzma Yehudit, and an important player in the Religious Zionism coalition. This man has the power to make or break Netanyahu’s government, with a predicted 14 seats in the Knesset making his party the third largest (behind Netanyahu’s Likud and outgoing PM Yair Lapid’s liberal centrist Yesh Atid Party).

"Today, I look at Israel and I am deeply confused and worried for the future."

Before I go on, I should say how much I love Israel - I am a proud liberal Zionist (I believe in a two-state solution, and a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). But today, I look at Israel and I am deeply confused and worried for the future. I am worried about the future of Palestinians, about the future of Reform and secular Jews like myself, about the future for women, and about the future for Israeli democracy. I’m worried about my friends who will serve in the army in a year or two.

I desperately want to believe that Israel is better than this; better than to elect a man who 27 years ago threatened the life of one of my heroes, then-Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin mere weeks before his assassination by an Israeli right-wing extremist.

Ben Gvir himself is an extremist, a part of the now-outlawed Kach Party when he was young. In the 2021 election he became infamous across Israel for hanging in his house a picture of a terrorist convicted of killing 29 Palestinians in a 1994 terrorist attack. This terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, seemingly a role model of Ben Gvir, likened Israeli democracy to the Third Reich. Ben Gvir also called for the end of LGBT rights in Israel, for the removal of ‘disloyal’ Palestinians and Arabs and even called for Israeli soldiers to use lethal force when unnecessary. It sounds like it doesn’t need to be said, but these sorts of people should not be in government.

Of course, I respect the results of the election, but I have serious concerns for their implications. Netanyahu’s government relies on the support of extremists and there are even suggestions of Netanyahu making Ben Gvir defence minister. No doubt these results will strain Israeli-Western relations, and I wonder about this next government’s commitment to the policies that set Israel apart from much of the Middle East- namely, democracy, LGBT+ rights, a commitment to ending the Palestinian conflict, sensitive and constructive diplomacy, and strengthening its ties with its neighbours.

"Peace is what everyone in Israel and Palestine prays for. Peace will not come as a result of this government. "

Israel should be the state of peace - electing such a right-wing government does absolutely nothing to help end or shrink the conflict. Peace is what everyone in Israel and Palestine prays for. Peace will not come as a result of this government.

Just because this result was reached democratically, however, does not mean that we should celebrate the fact that over 10% of Israelis voted for a proudly anti-democratic party. Clearly something is broken. I believe that election reform should manifest itself in giving the 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the right to vote, in an effort to shrink the conflict and make Israel an even truer democracy. But something is certainly wrong- here and now.

What I’m trying to say is that elections should not be praised for election’s sake - elections are not proof of an infallible democracy.

Words by Charlie Burton.


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