Israel’s Ben-Gvir, in leaked audio, cautious on far-right agenda in government

Middle East Monitor  /  November 27, 2022

A far-rightist on track to take a key post in Israel’s incoming government has warned supporters not to try to move too quickly with his agenda, cautioning in a recording leaked on Sunday that some planned legislation could backfire against them, Reuters reports.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu last week promised Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir a post as security minister with expanded powers over police in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The ascent of Ben-Gvir, a West Bank Jewish settler whose record includes 2007 convictions for incitement against Palestinians and support for a Jewish militant group on the Israeli and U.S. terrorist watch lists, has stirred concern at home and abroad.

But Ben-Gvir, now a lawyer, says his positions have become more moderate. They include expulsion for those he deems terrorists or traitors – rather than all Palestinians – and looser open-fire regulations for troops facing Palestinian unrest.

His new posture has met Palestinian skepticism and scorn.

“Ben-Gvir wants to move from being a rowdy, law-breaking, racist and terrorist to a man who possesses official responsibilities so he can turn this racism and hatred into official government policy, through the positions he would assume,” said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Ben-Gvir’s likely appointment has resonated within the Israeli military. A soldier was suspended on Friday after being videotaped warning pro-Palestinian activists in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron/Al-Khalil: “Ben-Gvir will sort this place out.”

Israeli Army Radio aired a recording from an internal Jewish Power meeting in which one lawmaker discusses a proposed bill for deporting those who voice solidarity with militants.

Ben-Gvir responds: “Let’s say that tomorrow morning … a family member comes along and praises the action of Doctor Goldstein, then they should be thrown of out the country?”

That referred to Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler who identified with the ultranationalist Jewish group Kach and massacred Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994. The attack prompted Israel to outlaw Kach, to which Ben-Gvir also once belonged.

“Every bill you propose has very, very broad consequences and impacts,” Ben-Gvir says in the recording. “If you know what the impacts are and you know what needs to be done – I’m with you. But first, everything much be understood.”

Queried by Army Radio, Ben-Gvir verified the recording.

In other interviews, he has also refused to be drawn on past calls to end a police ban on Jewish prayer at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam which Jews revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples. Palestinians and Jordan regard Jewish prayer there as a major provocation.

Pressed by Israeli broadcaster Kan radio on Sunday, he said only that he would “do everything possible to prevent bigoted policies on the Temple Mount [Haram al-Sharif]”, using Israel’s name for the site.