Kahanist Lawmaker Is the New Leader of the Israeli Right

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset this week.
Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset this week.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“You’re a terrorist, you should be in the Syrian parliament,” MK Itamar Ben-Gvir yelled at Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmad Tibi. The earth shook and the sky wept for some four minutes. After Tibi ordered him removed, two Knesset ushers tried to pry Ben-Gvir away from the podium. He wouldn’t go.

This bully and convicted criminal, with plenty of experience facing off against the security forces, isn’t scared of two ushers in suits. As in his fistfights on the terraced hills of the West Bank, he easily shook off the ushers and continued to berate Tibi; “You won’t shut me up, terrorist,” he yelled. If there had been stones nearby, perhaps Ben-Gvir would have thrown a large one at Tibi, so the latter would know whom he was facing and where, in the Israeli Knesset.

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Calling someone a terrorist is grounds for a libel suit, as Ben-Gvir himself has taught us. In April, Ben-Gvir filed a lawsuit against Meretz lawmaker Yair Golan for calling him a terrorist in a tweet and invited Golan to forego his immunity in order to stand trial. Golan had written, that Ben-Gvir "admits that he seeks to help the hilltop terrorists like those who torched the bilingual school. His immunity must be removed, and he must be sent to the Shin Bet for questioning.”

Golan was responding to a tweet by Ben-Gvir denouncing the conviction of a hilltop youth in an arson attack on the Church of the Loaves and Fishes: “One thing led me to stop everything and say I wanted to enter politics: one of the cases in the torching of the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. We must repair the judicial system, and we must fix and stop the persecution of all these sweet teenagers,” he wrote.

It’s doubtful that Tibi will bother to file a similar suit against Ben-Gvir, because such lawsuits could be filed against dozens of lawmakers, - including opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu - who have accused Arab lawmakers and other Arab leaders of supporting or aiding terrorists. And what’s the libel, anyway? “Arab terrorist” is a common phrase, acceptable and natural in the Jewish state, to the extent that it is redundant to use both words. If you are an Arab then you’re a terrorist, and if you’re a terrorist then it is implied that you are an Arab.

In March 2020, at the height of the first coronavirus wave, when there was talk of forming an emergency government, Netanyahu stated, “Supporters of terrorism cannot be part of the government, neither in routine times nor in emergencies.” It is unclear whether he also meant the United Arab List “terrorists” who were talking to him about forming a political alliance. No libel suit was filed then.

What is clear is that he gave supporters of Jewish terrorism unprecedented status. Although he declared that Ben-Gvir would not be a minister in his government, he encouraged and pushed anyone who didn’t want to vote Likud to vote for Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit faction. Now Ben-Gvir, who thwarted the formation of a Netanyahu government, is no longer a marginal Knesset member; he is the face of the opposition.

Noisy right-wingers, who insult and offend anyone who isn’t them, have been and still are present, but they are deeply pained at how the TV cameras are panning away from them and focusing on the “government of crooks.” Suddenly, statements by Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and even Benny Gantz make headlines, while all Netanyahu has is a Twitter feed that’s starting to grow boring.

Thus, a new leader emerges. Ben-Gvir will define for them what the real right wing is and how to win, and most importantly, how to bring the cameras back to their proper focus, to the real drama.

If Netanyahu provided a kashrut certificate for a partnership with Arabs, Ben-Gvir will make sure to void it, and anyone who doesn’t act like him will be dubbed a traitor, an enemy of Israel and a supporter of terror.

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