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Far-right Ben-Gvir’s New Ministry Heralds the Rise of the First Yair Netanyahu Government

The naming of the far-rightist as ‘national security minister’ shows that the elder Netanyahu ditched his good judgment long ago as he keeps on listening to his firebrand son

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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קמפיין עוצמה יהודית 2020
An Otzma Yehudit ("Jewish Power") campaign poster from a previous election round showing Itamar Ben-Gvir and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

There was once a Knesset member from the National Religious Party named David Glass. Every time this lawmaker got caught in a drawn-out negotiation process he'd sigh and exclaim: “I can’t be bothered anymore, just make things happen the way I want them to happen.”

Then there’s Itamar Ben-Gvir. By the end of the current chapter of the coalition talks, he got exactly what he wished for, or even more than he could have imagined.

A title is normally just a title. This time it’s the heart of the matter. The Public Security Ministry, once known as the Police Ministry, will now be the National Security Ministry.

You had to pinch yourself to believe it. What had been perfectly fine for so many distinguished and less-distinguished ministers isn’t good enough for our gun-toting hooligan. He wants Israel to be like America: After 9/11, the Bush administration created the Department of Homeland Security. And we thought Bezalel Smotrich was a megalomaniac.

Gadi Eisenkot, the previous chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, knows a thing or two about national security. He called Friday's news about Ben-Gvir's extended powers a “sad joke.”

A joke? That makes a mockery of the term. Still, we can’t really accuse the incoming minister of much. He campaigned with a clear agenda, won 14 Knesset seats – for his own party and his allies in the Religious Zionism alliance – and is making the most of this in the coalition talks. The person solely responsible for this mockery, this national travesty, is Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli soldiers and settlers in Hebron last month.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

Not only has Netanyahu consented to a title change, he has granted Ben-Gvir a tinderbox in a way that makes us seriously question his judgment (to use a phrase that won't trigger a libel charge). Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that transferring authority over the Border Police from the Defense Ministry to the National Security Ministry will create a “private army.” (Ben-Gvir will also receive power over the enforcement of land purchases and environmental decrees – two agencies that Arab Israelis must navigate every day.)

Ben-Gvir will indeed have a private army or police force: 18 Border Police divisions, under his direct control, inside a West Bank already on the brink of explosion.

Netanyahu is aware of the limits to power, and he has always been careful with defense issues – ever since his first term, when he was burned by the 1996 riots at the Western Wall Tunnels. What came over him to entrust a certified pyromaniac, an extremist settler, with a military-police force deployed in an ultra-sensitive area?

There is only one explanation: This isn’t the sixth Netanyahu government, it’s the first Yair Netanyahu one – hence the lunacy, the moral nadir, the irresponsibility.

After the 2013 election, Netanyahu sealed his first coalition deal with Tzipi Livni, the leader of the center-left Hatnuah party. She was appointed justice minster and charged with overseeing negotiations with the Palestinians. A decade later, his first coalition deal is with Ben-Gvir. That’s how far Netanyahu has come since the criminal investigations, the indictments and his corruption trial started.

Yair Netanyahu

This development underscores the pitifulness of the opinion pieces calling on the center-left to join the government. Just send a delegation to Caesarea, knock on the Netanyahus’ door and say to Yair, Bibi and Sara: Take us! But Netanyahu moved on a long time ago.

If he was in any way squeamish about Ben-Gvir and Smotrich – two former members of the so-called hill-top youth, settlers who have been under criminal investigation, with one of them convicted – he would know who to turn to. The old Netanyahu, without any trial hanging over him, would have done this as soon as the polls closed on November 1.

Netanyahu circa 2022 has no need to be saved from his coalition partners, because he’s just like them – a dangerous and irresponsible anarchist untrammeled by checks and balances. Anyone who transfers Israel’s Civil Administration to Smotrich – which is responsible for the Palestinians’ daily lives in the West Bank – or transfers the Border Police in the West Bank to Ben-Gvir, is a clear and present danger to Israel’s national security.

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