If he returns to power, it will be partly thanks to them. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said he was “close to a major victory” on Wednesday, November 2, after announcing the first results of parliamentary elections marked by the breakthrough of a far-right party. The Likud leader saw his allies on the list of Religious Zionism (or Religious Zionist Party) take third place with 14 seats, doubling their previous number of elected after 87% of the vote was counted. The Religious Zionist Party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, is also embodied by Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the anti-Arab Jewish Force Party that fought under this common banner. “Israel is about to start a right-wing, religious and authoritarian revolution,” fears the major left-wing daily Haaretz.
Franceinfo introduces you to the two men who may hold the keys to the next Israeli government.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the agitator
Itamar Ben Gvir, long confined to the role of rare troublemaker of the far right, has become a key figure in Israeli politics. Its ideological line is inspired by one of the most radical rabbis in history, Meïr Kahane, founder of a Jewish racist formation who was banned from the country after a 1994 attack on “terrorism” charges. Itamar Ben Gvir himself has been known since his youth to have been charged dozens of times with incitement to hatred or violence and boasts of being acquitted on 46 out of 53 counts.
In 1995, in a tense climate following the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, he attracted attention by ripping the Cadillac symbol from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car. “We have arrived at this symbol. We will achieve it,” the young man then set out to do. A few weeks later, the Israeli leader was assassinated by another far-right activist.
After years of activism, Itamar Ben Gvir, a lawyer by training, became MP in April 2021. A few months later, to make himself more respectable, the leader of the Jewish Force party (Otzma Yehudit) affirmed that he had “changed”. since he started.
“I said twenty years ago that all Arabs should be expelled, I don’t think so anymore, but I won’t apologize.”
Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Jewish Force
Itamar Ben Gvir still advocates expelling some of Israel’s Arabs to neighboring countries and targets “those who act to undermine the existence of the Jewish state”. He claims to have “no problem” with the Arab population “loyal” to the State of Israel. Stationed in one of the most radical settlements in the occupied West Bank, he also defends the annexation of that area, home to 2.9 million Palestinians and 475,000 Israeli settlers. The 46-year-old father of six is also known for his LGBT-phobic attitude.
Itamar Ben Gvir greets his supporters in Jerusalem on November 2, 2022 following Israel’s general elections. (MATAN GOLAN/SIPA-USA/SIPA)
What could be his role in the future government? Itamar Ben Gvir said on Tuesday he was running for the key Ministry of Internal Security, which did not exclude Benyamin Netanyahu. “It’s a paradox when you know that he didn’t do his military service and the army considers him too radical,” stresses Frédérique Schillo, a historian specializing in Israel, in La Croix. This rising figure has never hidden her penchant for guns — he recently drew a pistol during clashes in east Jerusalem. Such an appointment could lead to tightening security, with Itamar Ben Gvir lamenting that Israel has so far used too little force against the Palestinians.
Bezalel Smotrich, the radical leader
Bezalel Smotrich, more discreet and pacifist than his running mate, is President of the Religious Zionist Party (HaTzionut HaDatit), new name of the Resurrection Party (Tkuma) since 2021. This son of a rabbi attended one of the most renowned Talmud schools in Jerusalem. In a state with 20% Arab residents, he defends a radical vision of Israel. The confident settler sees the country as Jewish country for Jews, which should be governed more according to the Torah, and opposes the two-state solution that Binyamin Netanyahu has supported in the past.
Bezalel Smotrich, also a lawyer, clashed with militant and political life during demonstrations in “defense of the Jewish presence” in the Palestinian territories, Liberation reported in 2017. Incidents against settlement dismantling in Gaza, a project backed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the time became.
Bezalel Smotrich, elected MP in 2015, stood out in the Knesset as one of the poorest and most industrious elected MPs who, according to a recent article in Liberation, saw his children only on Shabbat. At the same time, the father of seven said he was “proud to be homophobic” and didn’t hide his racism. He was particularly outraged that his wife had to meet Arab women in the hospital after giving birth. Between 2019 and 2020 he was promoted to Minister of Transport in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.
Betzalel Smotrich is evacuated from the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 13, 2021 after disrupting a speech by future Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (ARIEL SCHALIT/AP/SIPA)
One of his hobbies now is reforming the Israeli judicial system, which he wants to subject more closely to his religio-political aspirations, particularly through state appointments of Supreme Court judges and limiting the possibility of censorship laws in the Knesset. Certain prosecutions against parliamentarians would be made impossible, which could end the trial of Benyamin Netanyahu, Le Monde notes.
The guarantee of such reform was presented as a necessary condition for an alliance with Binyamin Netanyahu’s party after the parliamentary elections, reports The Times of Israel. The Religious Zionist Party has announced that it will lay claim to the Ministry of Justice in the event of a coalition agreement. Their leader, Bezalel Smotrich, would aim for the post of defense, according to Le Monde.