Since they won the Knesset elections in November, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, Bezalel Smotrich, and leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, have been making local, regional and international headlines due to their far-right extremist stances, and racist and hostile attitudes towards secularists as well as Palestinians.
Israelis also expressed their concerns about their appointment to ministerial roles. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was presenting his government last week a large demonstration was held outside the Knesset building calling for him not to give extremist deputies ministerial jobs.
“I came to demonstrate against the government that is about to rise up in Israel, horrible government,” one of the demonstrators told PBS. He described the ministers of the new government as “criminals” who want to destroy Israel’s democracy. “A lot of criminals are sitting there,” he said, stressing: “They wish to destroy the Israeli democracy.”
Palestinian Authority (PA) President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, along with several Arab and international leaders have also called for Netanyahu not to give ministerial jobs to extremist politicians, especially those who have been convicted of crimes as a result of their extremism – namely Ben-Gvir.
US Senator Bob Menendez, during a trip to Israel before the Israeli election, warned Netanyahu that if he formed a government that includes right-wing extremists, it could harm US-Israel bilateral relations, Axios reported.
“The senator told Netanyahu he needed to realize the composition of such a coalition could seriously erode bipartisan support in Washington, which has been a pillar of the bilateral relationship between the US and Israel,” the source, which reported Menendez’s remarks to Axios, said.
Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism. He candidly insists on inciting against Palestinians, calling for their displacement, desecrating their holy sites and promoting land theft and building settlements.
Smotrich also has a history of making racist remarks about Arab citizens of Israel. He said the murder of the Dawabsheh family by an extremist Jewish settler was not terrorism. The family were burnt to death in an arson attack on their home. Only their then four-year-old son survived, suffering severe disfigurement and scarring as a result.
“I think the US is likely to boycott him,” David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who worked on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks under former President Barack Obama, told the NPR news website. “I have reason to think that they are strongly considering this.”
On Wednesday US Ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said America would primarily be working with Netanyahu, not Ben-Gvir or Smotrich. Speaking with Israeli public broadcaster Kan, Nides denied that the US had imposed a boycott on both extremist ministers because they are part of a “democratically elected government.” However, two sources told the Times of Israel that behind closed doors, Nides told colleagues that the US is not planning to meet with Ben-Gvir.
Nides said the Biden administration is to deal primarily with Netanyahu because to the US “he has his hands very firmly on the wheel.”
It appears no one is looking to deal with Ben-Gvir or Smotrich, but view Netanyahu as a dove of peace. However, Netanyahu is more extreme than both of his ministers and we don’t have to delve deep into his past to find examples of this.
Netanyahu was an advocate for the Nation State Law, saying Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”
He also believes that all Palestinians are alien to the land and did not live there, rather they emigrated to Palestine after Jews turned it into a prosperous land. He claims that Palestinians are the reason for the perpetuation of the conflict in the region, claiming Arabs dispossessed and kicked out the Jews from the Land of Israel after they conquered the area in the seventh century C.E.
In an interview conducted last month with Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist who has gained fame over the past decade for his political and cultural views, Netanyahu said: “If any people have a right to a state [in Palestine], it is the Jewish people… The Jews belong to this land, this land belongs to the Jews.”
He also said: “King David built his palace in the City of David adjacent to the Temple Mount and made Jerusalem our capital 3,000 years ago, and ever since, the Jewish people have prayed in the direction of the Temple Mount and its image has decorated their homes… We, the people of Israel, have a primal claim on Jerusalem. Our roots here are deeper than any other peoples, and the same is true about the Temple Mount. Jerusalem was ours and it will be ours.”
To Peterson he said: “It is under the Arab conquerors that the Jews lost their homeland. The Arabs were the colonials, the Jews were the natives dispossessed.”
Netanyahu is more extreme than Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, however, unlike his ministers, Netanyahu is not chaotic, he is a political veteran who knows how to carry out his occupation plans silently. He is able to continue killing Palestinians, stealing their land, disrespecting their holy sites and ignoring peace talks with them, while maintaining and building good relations with Arab and international communities.
– Motasem A Dalloul is MEMO’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip.