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In 2015, a wedding video that stunned the public was found during an Israeli police investigation into Jewish extremism. In the video, a group of far-right partygoers are seen rejoicing by stabbing a picture of a Palestinian child who had just been killed in a settler extremist’s firebombing in the West Bank hamlet of Duma. The visitors at this event came from the most extreme Israeli right, and one of them was a lawyer by the name of Itamar Ben-Gvir. A number of the participants, including the groom, would ultimately be found guilty of inciting panic and violence.
The incident, dubbed “the wedding of hatred,” was denounced by political figures in Israel. Young settler politician Bezalel Smotrich stated that “the demonic dance with the image of the dead baby indicates a dangerous ideology and the loss of humanity.” Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed, “The distressing photos released tonight demonstrate the actual face of a group that constitutes a threat to Israeli society and Israel’s security.” “We won’t welcome people who break the law and don’t believe they are subject to it,” the statement reads.
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who ran together as allies in the most recent Israeli election, will be sworn in as ministers in the nation’s new cabinet, headed by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, if everything goes according to plan this coming week.
These men will soon influence policy as they rise to positions of authority. Their catchphrase during the election was, “What you vote for is what you will get.”
The theatrical Ben-Gvir, a pupil of the notorious extreme Meir Kahane and prone to waving a pistol at adjacent Arabs, is better known outside of Israel than the analytical Smotrich. Despite their stylistic differences, the two men do agree on a lot of important points, especially when it comes to Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up around 20% of the country’s total population. Smotrich has recently argued for separating Jews and Arabs in Israel’s maternity wards, bemoaned the fact that “illiterate” Arabs were taking Jewish students’ spots in universities, and referred to Arab parliamentarians as “enemy” who were “inadvertently” present. Smotrich is a steadfast supporter of transforming Israel into a theocracy ruled by religious law and has previously referred to himself as a “proud homophobe,” however he no longer uses that term. He will now likely assume control over all aspects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including its settlements and the Palestinian residents who live there. Ben-Gvir, who was turned down by the Israel Defense Forces due to his radicalism, is set to take over as the nation’s national-security minister, who is in charge of the police.
The emergence of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir represents a fundamental transformation in Israeli politics: the extreme has become accepted. The two men, who were before unimportant individuals, now stand for the far-right spearhead of the Israeli Parliament, controlling 14 of the 120 seats in the Knesset and making up almost a quarter of the new coalition. A potential finance minister with a history of financial fraud convictions, a housing minister with a property that is illegally divided into two units, and a security cabinet member who opposes military service for his own ultra-Orthodox group are also included in the upcoming administration.
This cast of characters is the outcome of the Israeli election in November, which saw the nation’s electorate once more split between pro- and anti-Netanyahu parties. However, this time around, a peculiarity in the Israeli political system caused a number of anti-Bibi groups to fall short of the election threshold, allowing Netanyahu and his right-wing religious allies to win 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset despite receiving just 50% of the vote. In actuality, this means that despite receiving only 10% of the vote, the Israeli extreme right is now in a position to wield enormous power within a coalition that would be unable to exist without it.
In a speech broadcast on television yesterday night, Yair Lapid, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, cautioned that “the administration constituted here is risky, extremist, and reckless.” “This will not go well.” Show me a state in the world where the man in charge of the police is a violent felon with 53 indictments and eight convictions for significant offences, he remarked, referring to Ben-Gvir.
Lapid, who has railed against the emergence of the radical right for years, declared, “We will battle for the rule of law.” “We’ll stand up for women’s and the LGBT community’s rights. We’ll battle to uphold the IDF’s principles. For our children’s education, we will battle. We shall struggle for a Jewish identity that is accepting and not exploited as a justification for prejudice and hate.
Even though the new government has not yet taken office, the battle has already started. A hard-right politician tasked with overseeing a portion of the educational system, Avi Maoz, has been refused cooperation by hundreds of schools nationwide. Maoz, who Netanyahu appointed in charge of a “Jewish Identity” organisation, has recently campaigned for the cancellation of Jerusalem’s Pride march and the exclusion of women from the Israeli military.
According to Netanyahu, there is nothing to see because he and his party will be in charge regardless of the boasts and backgrounds of his newfound partners. He stated to journalist Bari Weiss last month that “the Likud and frankly, I, set the major agenda or the dominant policy of the government.” “Talmudic law will not be applied to this Israel. We won’t outlaw LGBT discussion forums. As you are aware, I have a very different perspective on that. We’re going to continue to be a legal nation. Netanyahu’s party has sent spokespeople to assure visiting dignitaries and journalists that operations will go as usual. Never pay heed to the radicals operating behind the scenes. He announced to NPR, “They are joining me.” I won’t be joining them.
Netanyahu’s actions in Israel, however, frequently diverge from the narrative he presents in the media abroad. He told the podcaster Jordan Peterson that he opposed such “lavish welfare spending” and that it was a problem that “the ultra-Orthodox community… didn’t work, they just had a lot of children, which the private sector had to pay for.” This was said as he started signing coalition agreements with his ultra-Orthodox allies to subsidise yeshiva students and effectively exempt them from the economy and military service. This use of a double entendre has been noted. Benny Gantz, the outgoing defense minister, claimed that while Netanyahu acts appropriately in Hebrew, he speaks irresponsibly in English. While acting to enact an override clause to get through minority judicial defenses in Hebrew, he declares in English that “We won’t violate the rights of minorities.”
Netanyahu’s claims of moderation beg the obvious question: If he does not share the principles of his own coalition members, why did he initially choose to appoint them to his government? Even when taken at face value. Why didn’t he create a government with the left and center-left parties of the nation, many of whom had previously worked for him? The solution is straightforward, if completely ignored in his foreign interviews: He chose the extreme right because they were the only party members ready to support legislation to end his ongoing corruption trial. The only strategy Netanyahu had to stay in power was to support extremists.
It is clear that this method carries political risks. The prestigious positions that Netanyahu has given to the far right and the ultra-Orthodox are already infuriating some members of his own Likud party. The Israeli public, according to polls, is overwhelmingly opposed to several of the new coalition’s proposed policies, including its proposed changes to the Supreme Court and its efforts to legislate Orthodoxy in the public realm. Organizations of civil society have long been planning to oppose the objectives of the far right.
Netanyahu, the quintessential political survivor, will have succeeded in shielding himself from punishment even if Dr. Frankenstein ultimately discovers that he cannot manage his creature. Netanyahu is willing for Israelis to pay that price even if the current government weakens the country’s judiciary, oppresses its minorities, or undermines its democratic institutions and reputation abroad.
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