The designation comes as part of a coalition deal with Prime Minister-Designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
By Erin Viner
“We took a big step towards a full coalition agreement, toward forming a fully, fully right-wing government,” stated Member of Knesset (MK) and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir after making the deal with Netanyahu, which awaits finalization of a government with a parliamentary majority.
The controversial politician will serve at the helm of the National Security Ministry, a newly created portfolio that will include responsibility for Border Police in the West Bank territories of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.
A Channel 12 Television poll found that 49% of Israelis would support Ben-Gvir’s appointment with 46% opposed.
Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party will also take ministries in charge of development in the Negev and Galilee regions, the Heritage Ministry and a deputy position at the Economy Ministry, as well as chairmanship of the Knesset Public Security Committee.
Netanyahu is still continuing talks with three other parties on forming the new government.
Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement against Arabs and backing the Kach group – considered by Israel and the United States to be a terrorist organization.
His ascent to power prompted the US State Department to declare Washington’s expectation for all officials in the Israel’s 37th government to share the values of an “open, democratic society, including tolerance and respect for all in civil society.”
Palestinians were quick to denounce Ben-Gvir’s appointment. The Palestinian Authority'(PA) Foreign Affairs Ministry claimed it would have a “potentially catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and hinder the revival of negotiations between the two sides. “Ben-Gvir wants to move from being a rowdy, law-breaking, racist and terrorist to a man who possesses official responsibilities so he can turn this racism and hatred into official government policy, through the positions he would assume,” said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
In Gaza, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas terror group that governs the territory, Hazem Qassem, said it means the next Israeli government will be “more fascist and extreme;” while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group also predicted further tension.
It also comes just days after a coordinated bombing attack on bus stops in Jerusalem that killed an Israel-Canadian student and an Ethiopian immigrant, wounding more than 20 others.
As a resident of the biblical territories in the West Bank, Ben-Gvir has long been a fierce opponent of Palestinian statehood. During the election campaign, he was seen brandishing a gun at Palestinian demonstrators in east Jerusalem.
He also supports Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the holiest site for the Jewish People and revered by Christians. It is also the third-holiest in Islam, where Muslims built the al-Aqsa Mosque atop the two Biblical Temples in Jerusalem’s Old City. According to a “status quo agreement” after Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, while Jews and Christians are only allowed on scheduled visits under heavy security presence. Muslims routinely clash with visitors to flashpoint holy site.
Ben-Gvir, 46, is also a practicing attorney who champions capital punishment and looser open-fire regulations for soldiers; although as his party has edged toward assuming government roles, he has moderated some of his earlier positions and says he no longer backs expulsion of all Palestinians – only those he deems traitors or terrorists.
In a leaked recording of an Otzma Yehudit meeting aired by Israel’s Army Radio yesterday, MK Ben-Gvir was heard cautioning members not to move too quickly with its agenda, saying that some planned legislation could backfire.
After one lawmaker proposed discussion on a bill to deporting those who voice solidarity with terrorists, Ben-Gvir responded, “Let’s say that tomorrow morning … a family member comes along and praises the action of Doctor Goldstein – then they should be thrown of out the country?”
The comment referred to Dr. Baruch Goldstein, a settler who also identified with the ultra-nationalist Kach movement, who massacred Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron back in 1994. The attack prompted Israel to outlaw Kach.
“Every bill you propose has very, very broad consequences and impacts,” Ben-Gvir said in the recording, adding, “If you know what the impacts are and you know what needs to be done – I’m with you. But first, everything must be understood.”
When asked by Army Radio, he verified the recording.