Nov 2, 2022 - World

The rise of Israel's extreme right

Itamar Ben Gvir addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2,

Itamar Ben Gvir addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on Nov. 2. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

One of the key factors that led to the victory of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc in Tuesday's Israeli elections was the unprecedented rise of the extreme right.

Why it matters: The next Israeli government will include a large number of politicians known for their racist, misogynistic, ultra-religious, anti-Arab or anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

Driving the news: For many years, Netanyahu kept his distance from the extreme right, especially Jewish supremacist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Jewish Power party.

  • But since the 2019 elections, he cultivated his relationship with extreme right politicians as he worked to unite its different factions. Unlike any previous Likud leader, Netanyahu normalized this relationship inside his constituency.
  • Ben-Gvir and his party saw increased support following the May 2021 Gaza war, which saw violence in areas where both Arab and Jewish citizens live.
  • Then a wave of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in the occupied West Bank and inside Israel this year gave Ben-Gvir’s campaign even more support.

With a campaign focused on "law and order" and promises to increase personal security and implement the death penalty against terrorists, Ben-Gvir, who was a fringe politician, gained support among new constituencies that hadn't supported him before.

  • Many of Ben-Gvir’s voters were young first-time voters, including many soldiers and some secular voters who reside in upper-middle-class cities in central Israel.
  • He also managed to swing voters who used to support centrist parties to the right-wing bloc.

What they're saying: During his victory speech last night, Ben-Gvir called to the stage Rabbi Dov Lior, who is known for his extremist, racist and misogynistic religious rulings and rhetoric.

  • He then praised Bentzi Gopstein, a member of his party who was disqualified by the Supreme Court from running in the elections due to his racist statements.
  • At a certain point during Ben-Gvir’s speech, some of his supporters started chanting “death to the Arabs” and “death to the terrorists."

Catch up quick: Ben-Gvir is a follower and a student of Rabbi Mair Kahane, who was known for his racist rhetoric. Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, formed the Kach party, which until last May was designated as a terror organization by the U.S. government.

  • Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism.
  • Ben-Gvir has said he wants to establish a new ministry for encouraging the emigration of "enemies" and people who are "disloyal" to the state. He also says he will try to pass laws for implementing the death sentence against those he calls "terrorists."
  • Ben-Gvir’s political partner, Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, has a history of making racist remarks about Arab citizens of Israel. Smotrich has said the murder of a Palestinian family by Jewish settlers was not terrorism, and he organized an anti-gay parade in Jerusalem.

Their parties also include Avi Maoz, the leader of Noam, a radical religious party that focuses primarily on opposing LGBTQ+ rights.

  • One of the members of Ben-Gvir’s party, Isaac Wasserlauf, was an activist against African asylum-seekers. Almog Cohen, another member of Ben-Gvir’s party, expressed support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
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