Whilst Americans are mostly swept up with the upcoming midterm elections, Israel is facing elections of their own on November 1st. For the fifth time in the last three years, Israelis will head to the polls to cast their votes for their favorite candidates and parties. Unlike American elections, there are around fifteen different parties running in this year’s election. The last government coalition, which fell apart several months ago, was made up of eight different parties. After the elections next week, one of the largest party leaders will be tasked with forming a governing coalition, which must reach at least 61 seats, or a majority in the Knesset.
If you’re interested in a full breakdown of Israel’s upcoming elections, watch today’s episode of The Israel Guys.
There’s one name on the political scene however, that is not only making headlines all over Israel, but in the international media as well.
Itamar Ben Gvir is the leader of the Otzma Yehudit Party (loosely translated as “Jewish Strength”). Due to his past controversial opinions, and his fiery personality, he has been making waves in Israel. His party has teamed up with the Religious Zionist Party under Betzalel Smotrich to form a technical bloc. Unifying as a party bloc ensures that small parties do not fail to pass the minimum four-seat threshold in an election. Due to their growing popularity however, it appears that their joint party will far surpass the minimum.
Despite media bias that has generally denounced Itamar Ben Gvir by labeling him a racist and a bigot, he has only increased in popularity. Some of the recent polls leading up to the election has the Religious Zionism Bloc winning up to fourteen seats in next week’s election, which means that they would be the third largest party in the Knesset, beating out current Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party by several seats. This means that Ben Gvir and Smotrich, both staunch right-wingers and supporters of Judea and Samaria, would likely receive senior ministerial positions in Israel’s next government.
Why has the media and liberal left branded Itamar Ben Gvir as a racist?
When Gvir was a teenager, he was a staunch supporter of Meir Kahane’s political party, which was considered by many to be extremist, and which was eventually banned from the Knesset. Ben Gvir also made statements in his younger years advocating for Arabs to be expelled from Israel, and until a few years ago, he had a photo of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his home, an Israeli from Kiryat Arab who entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1995 and murdered 29 Arabs, sparking a backlash of attacks and a general wave of violence in Israel against both Arabs and Jews.
However, Ben Gvir’s radical positions from his youth have turned, in his own words, into a mature political position at his current age of 46. In a recent interview to Israel365 News, he said:
“When I was young….I shouted that we should kick out all of the Arabs. I don’t believe that anymore. But I do think that anyone who lives in this country should obey the laws. I still think terrorists have no place in this country, even more than I did when I was young.”
“Our Tanach [Bible] teaches us that we are from here, we have come back to our land…I am not a racist, I do not hate Arabs, I hate terrorists.”
He went on to say: “my vision is a proud, strong Jewish state. I have no problem with our minorities—provided they are law-abiding citizens—but I do have a problem with those who raise a hand against our police and soldiers.”
What is Ben Gvir’s campaign platform? Among other things, some of his current political positions include:
- Advocating for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.
- An anti-Jihadist policy.
- He proposes that Israel should be a Jewish state first (he is not opposed to other minorities living in Israel, as long as they are peaceful, law-abiding citizens).
- Loosening the IDF’s rules of engagement so that they can more effectively deal with terrorism.
- He proposes to expel terrorists from Israel.
Overall, Itamar Ben Gvir is rapidly gaining popularity in Israel because of his strong, Zionistic values. He loves the land of Israel and the Jewish people. He is against terrorism and violence, and is an advocate for strong national security.
After five election cycles, and the absence of a strong governing coalition in the last three years, Israelis just might be fed up with the weak policies that other, longer-serving politicians are touting.
Itamar Ben Gvir is a firebrand politician, and even though he held more radical positions in his younger days, he is definitely no racist.
Israeli citizens will go to the ballot boxes next week on November 1st. The outcome will be interesting to watch unfold.