Have you ever heard of Kach? No? Never mind, but if you do not know what Kach was then it is likely that you do not know who Itamar Ben-Gvir is.
In fact, the Israeli parliamentarian has a well-documented history of racism and has been convicted of hate speech against the Palestinians. He is said to have kept a portrait of another violent Israeli terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, in his living room as a way of celebrating him. Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 others in February 1994 while they were praying inside Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque.
Ben-Gvir used to be a member of the Kach organisation and political party, an extremist Israeli group founded by an American Jew, Rabbi Meir Kahane, in 1971. Kahane served as a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset before being convicted of terrorism. Kach was banned because it was too extreme, even for Israel. Kahane became a role model and source of inspiration for extremists in Israel. His political ideology and legacy remains one of hate and violence against the Palestinians, and openly calls for their expulsion from Palestine. He was assassinated in New York in 1990.
The extreme right-wing Ben-Gvir is Minister of National Security in Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest coalition government which won a vote of confidence in the Knesset on 29 December. His first public act as a minister was his provocative and controversial visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied east Jerusalem earlier this week. He clearly wanted to send a message of hatred to the Palestinians.
Being responsible for national security in the occupation state means that Ben-Gvir will have the power to order more extreme measures against the Palestinians, not only in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, but also within Israel itself. He will play a role in securing more money to fund illegal settlement expansion and protect the hordes of illegal settlers who are intent on stealing and occupying ever more Palestinian land.
His controversial Al-Aqsa Mosque visit has already been condemned by the US and other countries. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the US is “deeply concerned by the visit of the Israeli minister” to the site.
Desperate to return to power, Netanyahu did not hesitate to enter into a coalition with the most extreme Israeli political figures who share his ideology of building more settlements on stolen Palestinian land; demolishing Palestinian homes; and making everyday life for Palestinians more difficult.
In 2022 alone, the occupation authorities detained around 7,000 Palestinians, including women and 142 children under the age of 12. This figure is likely to rise in the coming years as long as this most extreme Israeli government to date stays in power. As Prime Minister, Netanyahu will do everything he can to keep his coalition partners close, even if that means upsetting Israel’s close allies such as the US and Britain.
The global reaction to Israel’s extreme right-wing government has been, at best, one of empty expressions of concerns. There has been no concerted diplomatic response or hint of sanctions, as might have been expected when such extremists are in government. This has been seen in other countries.
The most recent example was in Afghanistan after the Taliban defeated NATO and the US and took over the country in August 2021. Almost every single Western country took immediate measures against the Taliban-led Afghan government. Even UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did his part by boycotting the movement. Most countries made their recognition of the Taliban government conditional upon a number of issues, such as gender equality and cutting links with whoever the West accuses of terrorism. The US went as far as basically stealing $7 billion of Afghanistan’s frozen assets. Any organisation or company dealing with the Taliban government faces US sanctions and punitive measures from the Europeans.
Not so long ago, Austria saw its far-right Freedom Party joining in a coalition with the People’s Party, known by its German acronym OV. That was in 2000. The European Union, of which Austria is a member, took diplomatic and political measures. Portugal held the rotating EU presidency at the time, and immediately issued a warning to Austria that it “will not be business as usual” if the Freedom Party joins any governing coalition. Guterres was Portuguese prime minister at the time. “Nothing will be as before,” he warned.
Not so with Israel, though. This is not the first time that Netanyahu is leading an extremist government that undermines the two-state solution, expands illegal settlements and implements apartheid policies against its own Palestinian citizens and those under occupation, while tightening its blockade of Gaza. And yet the West, and the US in particular, isn’t actually threatening to impose any punitive measures on Israel whatsoever.
Moreover, even before he was sworn in as prime minister, Netanyahu was already invited to visit the UAE. Three days later, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi phoned to congratulate him on his return to power.
It will not be long before the Israeli government implements even more apartheid measures against the Palestinians; it will interesting to see how the Western democracies and friends of Israel react. The same Israeli government includes Avi Maoz, who is openly anti-homosexuality and threatens to ban gay pride parades. If and when that happens we are likely to hear more of a Western uproar than if a dozen Palestinian homes are demolished.
Should anyone be embarrassed by Netanyahu’s return to power? Of course they should; every single Western government and politician backing the occupation state without question should curl up in shame. But they won’t. Because it’s Israel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.