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In 2015, an Israeli police probe into Jewish radicalism turned up a wedding video that astonished the public. A group of far-right partygoers can be seen on the video celebrating by stabbing a picture of a Palestinian boy who had just died in a firebombing by a settler extremist in the West Bank village of Duma. One of the attendees at this occasion, an attorney by the name of Itamar Ben-Gvir, was from the most extreme Israeli right. In the end, several of the participants—including the groom—were adjudicated guilty of provoking fright and violence.
Political figures in Israel condemned the affair, nicknamed “the wedding of hatred.” “The demonic dance with the picture of the dead baby reflects a dangerous ideology and the lack of humanity,” said young settler lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich. “The terrible images presented tonight demonstrate the genuine face of an organisation that constitutes a threat to Israeli society and Israel’s security,” then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. According to the statement, “We won’t accept anyone who break the law and don’t think they are accountable for it.”
If everything goes according to plan this coming week, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who ran alongside as partners in the most recent Israeli election, will be sworn in as ministers in the country’s new cabinet, led by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu.
As they advance to positions of leadership, these men will soon have a say in policy. “What you vote for is what you will receive,” was their campaign slogan.
Outside of Israel, the dramatic Ben-Gvir—a student of the notorious radical Meir Kahane who frequently pointed a gun at nearby Arabs—is better known than the cerebral Smotrich. Despite their aesthetic differences, the two men do agree on a lot of crucial issues, particularly in regards to Israel’s Arab minority, which accounts for about 20% of the nation’s overall population. Smotrich has recently called for segregating Jews and Arabs in Israeli maternity hospitals, lamented that “illiterate” Arabs were displacing Jewish students in universities, and referred to Arab lawmakers who were “inadvertently” there as “enemy.” Smotrich, who has previously referred to himself as a “proud homophobe” but no longer does so, is a staunch advocate of turning Israel into a theocracy governed by religious law. It is likely that he will now take charge of every facet of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including the settlements there and the Palestinians who live there. Ben-Gvir is expected to succeed the nation’s current national-security minister, who is in charge of the police, after being rejected by the Israel Defense Forces owing to his radicalism.
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A fundamental shift in Israeli politics has occurred with the rise of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir: the extreme has gained acceptance. With 14 of the 120 seats in the Knesset under their control and accounting for about a quarter of the new coalition, the two men, who were before negligible, now represent the far-right spearhead of the Israeli Parliament. The new government will also include a security cabinet member who opposes military service for his own ultra-Orthodox group, a potential finance minister with a history of financial fraud convictions, a housing minister whose property is unlawfully divided into two units, and a potential housing minister who has a property that is illegally divided into two units.
The result of the Israeli election in November, which saw the country’s electorate once again split between pro- and anti-Netanyahu parties, is this ensemble of characters. However, a peculiarity in the Israeli political system this time around resulted in a number of anti-Bibi factions falling short of the election threshold, allowing Netanyahu and his right-wing religious supporters to win 64 of the 120 members in the Knesset despite earning only 50% of the vote. In reality, this means that the Israeli far right, although getting just 10% of the vote, is now in a position to exercise tremendous power within a coalition that would be unable to function without it.
Israel’s outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid, issued a warning that “the government constituted here is hazardous, radical, and reckless” in a speech that was televised last night. “This won’t work out well.” He said, referring to Ben-Gvir, “Show me a state in the world where the man in command of the police is a violent offender with 53 indictments and eight convictions for important offences.”
We will fight for the rule of law, said Lapid, who has long raged against the rise of the radical right. “ We’ll fight for the rights of women and members of the LGBT community. To maintain the ideals of the IDF, we will fight. We shall fight for the education of our kids. We will fight for a Jewish identity that is welcoming and isn’t used as an excuse for bigotry and hatred.
The conflict has already begun, despite the fact that the new administration has not yet entered office. Numerous schools around the country have declined to work with Avi Maoz, a hard-right lawmaker who was given the responsibility of controlling a sector of the educational system. Maoz recently advocated for the cancellation of Jerusalem’s Pride march and the exclusion of women from the Israeli military. Maoz was nominated by Netanyahu to lead a “Jewish Identity” organisation.
Netanyahu claims that there is nothing to see since, whatever the boasts and histories of his newfound allies, he and his party will be in power. He said last month that “the Likud and frankly, I established the key agenda or the dominating policy of the government” in an interview with journalist Bari Weiss. “This Israel will not be subject to Talmudic law. Forums for LGBT debate won’t be banned. As you are aware, I view that from a totally different angle. We’re still going to be a legal country. Speaking representatives for Netanyahu’s party have been deployed to reassure visiting dignitaries and journalists that business will continue as usual. Never listen to the extremists working in the shadows. They are joining me, he said, according to NPR. I’m not going to follow them.
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However, Netanyahu frequently deviates from the story he tells in the media abroad in Israel. He expressed his opposition to such “lavish welfare spending” to podcaster Jordan Peterson and noted that it was an issue that “the ultra-Orthodox community…didn’t work, they just had a lot of children, which the private sector had to pay for.” This was expressed as he began forging coalition deals with his allies in the ultra-Orthodox community to subsidise yeshiva students and therefore essentially exclude them from working and serving in the military. It has been reported that this double entendre was used. The outgoing defence minister, Benny Gantz, asserted that while Netanyahu behaves responsibly in Hebrew, he speaks recklessly in English. He proclaims in English, “We won’t compromise the rights of minorities,” while acting to create an override provision to overcome minority judicial protections.
The seeming contradiction in Netanyahu’s claims of moderation is why he initially chose to nominate his coalition partners to his government if he does not share their ideals. even when used literally. Why, given that many of them had previously worked for him, did he not form a government with the left and center-left parties of the country? The answer is simple, albeit it went unmentioned in his interviews abroad: Because they were the only party members prepared to back legislation to end his continuing corruption trial, he selected the extreme right. Supporting extremists was the only plan Netanyahu had to maintain his position of authority.
There is little doubt that this approach has political dangers. Some members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party are already enraged by the coveted jobs he has granted to the far right and the ultra-Orthodox. Polls show that the majority of Israelis are hostile to numerous of the new coalition’s proposed policies, including as its plans to alter the Supreme Court and its attempts to impose Orthodoxy in public life. Civil society groups have been preparing to counter the far right’s goals for a long time.
Even if Dr. Frankenstein eventually realises he cannot control his creation, Netanyahu, the ideal political survivor, will have been successful in avoiding punishment. Even if the current administration weakens the country’s judiciary, oppresses its minorities, or tars Israel’s democratic institutions and standing abroad, Netanyahu is willing for Israelis to pay that price.
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