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Israel: 'whole world is worried about Ben-Gvir,' warns president

Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit Party and right-wing member of Knesset (Israel’s Parliament), visits the Mahane Yehuda Market as part of the election campaign before the elections to be held on the 1st of November in Jerusalem on October 28, 2022. [Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency]
Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem on October 28, 2022 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has been caught on an open microphone saying that "the whole world is worried" about newly-elected lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir's extremism, the Times of Israel has reported. Herzog apparently believed that the mic had been switched off at the end of his meeting about the next government with an ultra-Orthodox party.

"You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about. I have also said this to him [Ben-Gvir]. This is really not for publication. I don't want to cause problems," said Herzog. "You are going to have a problem with the Temple Mount [Al-Aqsa Mosque]. That is a critical issue."

Far-right Israelis have repeatedly forced their way into the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in occupied Jerusalem over the past few years. Observant Jews believe that this was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. Since 2003, Israel has allowed illegal settlers into the compound almost daily.

Ben-Gvir is an extreme far-right ultranationalist and the head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) Party, which is in Bezalel Smotrich's equally far-right Religious Zionism coalition. He was convicted in 2007 of racist incitement and support for Kach, a group which both Israel and the US designated as a terrorist organisation, and is expected to be in Benjamin Netanyahu's new cabinet following last week's General Election.

This was the fifth election in Israel in less than four years. Netanyahu's ideological soulmates on the far-right enabled him to control 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. He thus has a majority and will be tasked by Herzog with forming the next government, which looks set to be the most extreme in Israel's history.

"The president contacted Ben-Gvir and expressed these issues with him openly and honestly," explained Herzog's office. The meeting was one of a number held with all of the political party leaders yesterday.

"President Herzog and I have had several fruitful conversations over the past several weeks," said Ben-Gvir, who is well known for his hostility towards Palestinians. "The president told me more than once that my popularity rested on the public's intimate familiarity with my views and that he is sure that once I speak with others around the world they will come to realise I am not against all the Arabs."

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