US condemns ‘abhorrent’ Ben-Gvir attendance of Kahana memorial

MEE Staff  

Middle East Eye  /  November 11, 2022

Far-right politician says main characteristic of late Jewish supremacist rabbi was ‘love’.

The United States has condemned far-right Israeli MP Itamar Ben-Gvir after he attended a memorial honouring a Jewish supremacist rabbi who inspired deadly attacks against Palestinians. 

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said it was “abhorrent” that Ben-Gvir attended the annual event on Thursday in which he praised Meir Kahane, an anti-Palestinian advocate whose political party was outlawed as a terror group in the US and Israel. 

“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent,” said Price when asked about Ben-Gvir’s attendance at a State Department briefing. 

“We are concerned by the use of Kahane’s legacy and rhetoric by extremist and violent right-wing activists,” he added. 

Ben-Gvir, a likely minister in the next Israeli government, was a student and disciple of Kahane. 

The hardline rabbi founded the Kach party in 1971 and was elected to parliament in 1984, where he publicly advocated for the mass expulsion of Palestinians. He was killed in New York in 1990. 

Aged 16, Ben-Gvir joined Kach as an activist before it was designated a terror group by the US and banned in Israel in 1994 after a Kach member killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and wounded dozens in Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron/Al-Khalil.

Ben-Gvir paid tribute to Kahane on Thursday saying he believed he was all about “love”.

“I think Rabbi Kahane’s main characteristic was love,” he said.  “Love of Israel without compromises or any other considerations.”

He also praised Kahane for his work to “open the Iron Curtain, fight antisemitism against Jews in the US and legislate the death penalty for terrorists”.

However, Ben-Gvir stopped short of supporting Kahane’s racist anti-Arab views, which was met with jeer by the crowds. 

“It is not a secret that I am not Rabbi Kahane and I don’t support deporting all Arabs,” he said.

Crowds booed him for saying that, with someone responding “all Arabs”, according to the newspaper Haaretz. On his way out of the event, Ben-Gvir said crowds were allowed to jeer him. 

Public security ministry 

The prospect of Ben-Gvir becoming a minister in the upcoming government has raised fears inside Israel and abroad. 

On 1 November, his political alliance Religious Zionism, led by far-right MP Bezalel Smotrich, won 14 seats, making it the third biggest in the 120-seat parliament.

Along with ultra-Orthodox parties, Religious Zionism is set to be part of a government coalition led by Likud’s leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are likely to have senior positions in the new government, with the pair asking for the ministries of Public Security and Defence, respectively. 

Ben-Gvir has previously called for the deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up nearly 20 percent of the population, although he later backtracked on the comments. 

In August, he said he wanted to expel politicians deemed “disloyal” to Israel, a reference to parliament members who represent Palestinian citizens of Israel and left-leaning Israeli MPs.

He has also vowed to relax the rules of engagement for police. On Thursday, he said that soldiers in the occupied West Bank should be allowed to “respond” if someone throws rocks and firebombs at them. 

Last month, he pulled a gun on residents of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. 

Earlier that day, he had tweeted a video of a man throwing a stone at an Israeli settler in Sheikh Jarrah in front of police, writing that: “Instead of shooting or arresting him, the officer is content to push him back. I am now on my way to the place to protect the Jewish residents. Enough of the promiscuity.”

Israel’s closest ally, the US, has repeatedly signaled its concern at the rise of far-right figures to the top ranks in Israeli politics. 

Earlier this week, American officials said bilateral relationships would be “​​hugely influenced” depending on who becomes Defence minister, a comment that seemed to hint at opposition to Smotrich taking the post.

On Wednesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned party representatives at a meeting in his residence that the “entire world” is concerned about Ben-Gvir becoming a minister.