Israel’s president says ‘world is worried’ about far-right partner in Netanyahu coalition

The Guardian  /  November 10, 2022

Isaac Herzog said the views of Itamar Ben-Gvir will cause problems, as Religious Zionists party gets set to join the governing coalition.

Israeli president Isaac Herzog has said “the whole world is worried” about the far-right views of Itamar Ben-Gvir, who appears set to become a minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government.

Herzog’s statement was caught by a microphone that he apparently thought was off as he held consultations with an ultra-Orthodox political party about the next government, expected to be led by former premier Benjamin Netanyahu following the victory of his right-wing alliance in last week’s election.

“You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about. I have also said this to him. This is really not for publication. I don’t want to cause problems,” Herzog said on a live mic about Ben-Gvir at the end of the meeting.

“You are going to have a problem with the Temple Mount. That is a critical issue,” Herzog said, referring to a Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Palestinians and backing a group considered by Israel and the United States to be a terrorist organisation, supports Jewish prayer at the sacred compound, challenging the historic status quo.

Herzog’s office later said the president had discussed these concerns with Ben-Gvir directly.

A spokesperson for Ben-Gvir did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to local media, Ben-Gvir said he has had “many fruitful conversations” with the president and that he intends to explain his party’s positions.

The ultranationalist politician – who wants to be police minister – has raised alarm among Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours who fear his inclusion in government could stoke Middle East tensions.

Last week’s election saw Netanyahu end a stalemate after five elections in less than four years. Along with smaller far-right and religious parties, his Likud party took 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament, giving Netanyahu a solid majority and easing the process of forming a government.

Ben-Gvir’s party, the Religious Zionists, doubled the number of seats it holds in the Knesset to 14 in last week’s election. Their success has been credited with cementing support for Netanyahu’s far-right bloc in parliament. The new government is likely to be one of the most right-wing in the state’s history.

The president’s consultations with political parties will continue over the coming days. He will tap a candidate to assemble a government on Sunday, his office said.