Far-right lawmaker publishes speech he intends to give at memorial service for slain ultra-nationalist rabbi and former MK; insists he is more moderate than his mentor
By TOI STAFF
Far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir on Thursday paid tribute to the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane on the 32nd anniversary of his killing.
Ben Gvir’s comments were from a speech he was set to give later in the evening at an event to commemorate Kahane, who was assassinated at a New York City hotel in November 1990 by an Egyptian-American jihadist.
Ben Gvir, who is expected to be a key figure in Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming government, extolled the virtues of Kahane, seeking at the same time to draw boundaries between himself and the extremist leader.
“Ultimately Rabbi Kahane was about love. Love for Israel without compromise, without any other consideration,” he said.
Ben Gvir will attend the Kahane memorial shortly after his Otzma Yehudit party meets with President Isaac Herzog for consultations on who should form the next government. On Wednesday, Herzog was overhead telling party representatives on a hot mic that the “the entire world” was concerned about Ben Gvir’s extreme views.
The Otzma Yehudit chief released the memorial speech to the media after apparently accidentally first posting it online.
In the speech, Ben Gvir credited Kahane, who was banned from the Knesset for racism, with establishing a yeshiva that helped turn him to return to religion, and where he studied the extremist rabbi’s teachings. He noted he’d never met Kahane.
Ben Gvir, who is demanding to be police minister in the next government, sought to distance himself from some of Kahane’s teachings, but said he ultimately draws inspiration from him.
“It is no secret that today I am not Rabbi Kahane and I do not support the deportation of all Arabs, and I will not enact laws for separate beaches, although it is certain that we will act and do everything to expel terrorists from the country for the sake of the Jewish character of Israel, for the settlements and its Jewish identity,” Ben Gvir said.
“It seems to me that ultimately Rabbi Kahane was about love. Love for Israel without compromise, without any other consideration,” he said.
Ben Gvir is a self-described disciple of Kahane, a former MK whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in the 1980s in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir was convicted in the past of supporting a terror organization, though he insists he has moderated in recent years.
Noting the weekly Torah portion, Ben Gvir said that when another Jew is in trouble, “we leave everything and go to help,” and cited this as his reason for entering politics.
“This is my role and the mission I took upon myself… To act with love of Israel for any Jew in trouble,” he said. “If in the Negev they beat Jewish girls, that must be stopped.
“If in Judea and Samaria,” he said, meaning the West Bank, “they throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at our soldiers and police officers, [the latter] must be allowed to respond. If a family is scared to walk to the Western Wall because it’s dangerous, that must end.”
“Love for Israel includes the duty to ensure we are a free people in our land, without fear, with pride and tremendous love,” he added.
Ben Gvir gained notoriety before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin when he proudly held up an ornament that he’d managed to rip off Rabin’s Cadillac during a TV interview and said “We’ll get to Rabin too.” For years, Ben Gvir had a picture of Baruch Goldstein — the Jewish terrorist who carried out a massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, killing 29 Palestinians — hanging on the wall of his Kiryat Arba home. He removed it in 2019 after it became heavily publicized in local media and began to harm him politically.
Going into last week’s elections, Ben Gvir campaigned on hardline policies such as enacting the death penalty for terrorists, expelling “disloyal” Arab Israeli citizens and changing the rules of engagement for Israeli security forces to allow them to more easily shoot-to-kill Palestinian suspects.
The proposals appeared to resonate with large swaths of the increasingly right-wing public, with the far-right Religious Zionism alliance that Ben Gvir ran as part of surging to 14 seats, the third most of any electoral slate.
On Monday Ben Gvir retweeted a photograph of Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi at Ben Gurion Airport holding a suitcase and added the remark “About time. May we merit to only have news like this and may he not come back here.”
Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit is a part of the Religious Zionism alliance of far-right parties that won 14 seats in last week’s elections for the Knesset and is set to be the second-largest party in the coalition that Netanyahu hopes to form, ousting Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing religious parties won 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Likud has taken much criticism for embracing far-right parties harboring extreme stances that go far beyond its own positions, including unequal treatment for Jews and Arabs, deportation for “disloyal” citizens and constraining LGBT rights.
Times of Israel