1667437711 Netanyahu is the predicted winner but it was Ben Gvir

Netanyahu is the predicted winner, but it was Ben Gvir who was crowned on election night

With revelers in the electrically excited crowd proclaiming him “king” and struggling to catch a glimpse of Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, a participant in the party’s election night celebration might have been forgiven for thinking , the far-right politician won the Israeli elections on Tuesday. And while Ben Gvir, who doesn’t even head his joint list of Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit, won’t be prime minister this fall, he won the night in many ways.

In the space of two years, Ben Gvir has catapulted himself from an unelectable bogeyman into Cinderella history, earning religious Zionism an untold number of votes and making it the third largest party in the Knesset and a likely leading coalition partner if current projections stand.

In doing so, he has toned down his flaming rhetoric but not his stance, bringing his extremist view of what it means for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state into the mainstream.

Former Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is set to form the next government and pave his way back to power by tying Ben Gvir into an alliance with Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism and the anti-LGBT party Noam to get the maximum number of far-right voices to strengthen his alliance.

Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit will be the second largest party in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious coalition, according to initial results showing it will contribute up to 15 of the Likud-led bloc’s projected 62-65 seats. From this lofty position, she is ready to make demands for ministries and far-reaching policy initiatives that can shape what this means for Israel’s self-image as a Jewish and democratic state.

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Ben Gvir said Sunday he plans to call on the Ministry of Public Security, which oversees Israel’s policing and internal security. Despite being discharged from conscription in the Israel Defense Forces as a teenager for his ultra-nationalist views, Ben Gvir has carved out a platform for himself to staunchly defend IDF soldiers. As part of his pledge, if appointed police minister, he would push for immunity for security officers and relax IDF live fire directives.

Ben Gvir, who glorified Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, has also pushed for the deportation of “disloyal” citizens and Arabs who attack IDF soldiers, and the death penalty for terrorists, a measure also supported by some members of the outgoing coalition becomes.

Netanyahu is the predicted winner but it was Ben Gvir

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit political party and activists protest in support of the deportation of asylum seekers in southern Tel Aviv on October 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ben Gvir’s focus on public safety is fueled by concerns about violence following last year’s riots in mixed Arab-Jewish cities that erupted in the Gaza Strip during the May 2021 conflict with the Hamas terror group, and a recent resurgence of terror in the Gaza Strip West Bank. With security a top issue for many, Ben Gvir’s hardline approach to Arab violence made him a popular voter, particularly among right-wing Israelis, said Yair Sheleg, an expert on national religious policy at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

But Ben Gvir’s view of security is often seen as incitement, particularly by Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians, whose politicians denounce him and his party. This point was underscored when several of Otzma Yehudit’s supporters chanted “death to the terrorists” at the party’s celebration on Tuesday night – “terrorist” sometimes being used as a euphemism for Arabs.

For his part, Netanyahu has gone from saying in mid-October that Ben Gvir is unfit to become a minister to saying in mid-October that he “surely can become one” and to saying on Monday he had not “disqualified” Ben in a year . Gvir’s candidacy for police minister – although he noted there were multiple candidates.

Welcoming supporters after his banner night, Ben Gvir said “it’s time for us to be masters of the house again in our own state,” said Ben Gvir – who polls say is the dominant figure in religious Zionism Otzma Yehudit, though Smotrich is his leader,” in which he repeats oft-repeated campaign statements that Jews must reassert their sovereignty in Israel.

Otzma Yehudit’s platform – which has now been removed from its website – had called for encouraging undefined “enemies” of the state to emigrate.

Its territorial-maximalist view also calls for Israel to reassert its control of the Temple Mount flashpoint — where the current status quo blocks non-Muslim prayer — and the West Bank, which Ben Gvir and his allies have been pushing to include in Israel do extend equal rights or citizenship to the millions of Palestinians who live there.

Insurgent politicians have a habit of toning down their views once in government, and Ben Gvir has also tiptoed to more conciliatory rhetoric, saying on Wednesday that while he supports a “fully right-wing government ‘ plan to ‘work for them’. all Israel, even those who detest me.”

1667437700 458 Netanyahu is the predicted winner but it was Ben Gvir

Supporters of the Otzma Yehudit party celebrate as initial polls on the outcome of the election are announced at the party’s campaign headquarters on November 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With control of five of the list’s top 10 seats and 13th and 15th places should the party win that many votes, Otzma has reportedly considered keeping coalition negotiations separate from religious Zionism, although Smotrich denied that possibility on Israeli television on Wednesday.

Smotrich has expressed interest in the defense, finance and justice ministries. The Likud has said it wants to keep the first two – considered high-level posts – in its own party, leaving the judiciary as the most likely portfolio for the party leader.

Smotrich has derided the current judicial system as “sick,” and the Religious Zionism Party has pushed for a far-reaching judicial reform package that reflects some of the Likud’s political goals.

1667437702 365 Netanyahu is the predicted winner but it was Ben Gvir

Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich introduces his party’s Law and Justice program during a news conference in Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

First up are reforms that would exercise more political control over the judicial system, principally through the creation of a mechanism for the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court vetoes on laws that have been declared unconstitutional, as well as all judicial appointments of the to transfer political control by packing the nine-member Appeals Committee of six politicians.

Critics have accused Smotrich and other judicial reform advocates in his corner of wanting to ruthlessly treat the system rather than reform it, while Smotrich insists the reforms are necessary to preserve Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state.”

The effort is likely to be supported by the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox partners, who have long supported judicial reforms that will debunk what many in their communities perceive as an activist court interfering with their religiously-guided lifestyles.

The Likud and its senior figures have also backed a number of similar reforms in recent years, including shifting Supreme Court appointments to government control with the approval of the Knesset and allowing laws declared unconstitutional by a majority of 61 MPs to to reinstate.

1667437704 791 Netanyahu is the predicted winner but it was Ben Gvir

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives early on November 2, 2022 to address supporters at the party’s campaign headquarters in Jerusalem. (Ronaldo Scheimidt/AFP)

The most cynical charge against the rising bloc’s judicial reform efforts is that they could be used to extricate Netanyahu from his ongoing bribery trial.

Smotrich said his party wants to remove the fraud and breach of trust criminal charge, which applies to officials who exercise their influence when they know they will receive a benefit in return and is used in cases that don’t rise to the level of bribery . Legal experts, including Netanyahu critic Mordechai Kremnitzer, have attacked the accusation as too vague.

But removing the charge from Israel’s penal code would potentially remove three of the four charges Netanyahu is on trial on, leaving only his charge of bribery.

While religious Zionism says it has no intention of using the reforms to provide Netanyahu with a way out of legal troubles – and both Likud and Netanyahu are similarly adamant – political opponents have been dubious.

Ben Gvir, on the other hand, has said he would push for the passage of a so-called French law that would bar a sitting prime minister from prosecution.

Others have put forward the proposal in the past, although critics have noted that France also has a rule that would keep Netanyahu out of power anyway: term limits.