Joan Mas Autonell
Jerusalem, Oct 28 (EFE).- The Jewish supremacist and anti-Arab ultra-right, marginalized a few years ago, has gained relevance and is expected to play a key role in Israel’s elections on Tuesday.
The openly racist and homophobic movement is emerging as the third largest force and as the main partner for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to triumph in his latest attempt to return to power.
The far-right has seen its support soar, especially among the youngest voters, many of whom are expected back them at the polls on November 1, to the detriment of the traditional right and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
The most powerful figure in the movement is Itamar Ben Gvir, lawyer, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party and veteran militant of the far right.
INCITEMENT AND ANTI-ARAB RHETORIC
Ben Gvir has gained prominence in recent years for his provocative acts on the streets against Palestinians and his rhetoric in the Israeli parliament, where he won only one seat in the March 2021 elections.
This visibility “brought him out of the margins” and has provided him with a platform to spread inflammatory discourse that Netanyahu himself “legitimized as an acceptable political option,” Tamar Hermann, professor and member of the Israel Democracy Institute, tells Efe.
In fact, Ben Gvir’s rise cannot be understood without Netanyahu, who has already stated that he would include him as a minister in his coalition.
As in 2021, Otzma Yehudit is running together with two other far-right parties, unified in the Religious Zionism movement, a union formed at Netanyahu’s initiative so that together they pass the minimum vote threshold of 3.25% and achieve parliamentary representation – something that separately might not happen – and so that the former prime minister does not lose votes to the extreme right to form a coalition that would return him to power.
It could even win votes from Netanyahu’s Likud, which would give it more power in the negotiations to form a government.
POPULAR IN THE STREET
All in all, Ben Gvir’s popularity is evident on the street. When he walks on a weekend night through downtown Jerusalem, many passersby greet him as if he were a mass idol, take selfies with him and call him “King of Israel.”
“We have to vote for this man because he will give us security,” Efraim Rapaport, a young Otzma Yehudit supporter who distributes electoral propaganda, told EFE. He believes that Israel does not belong to the Arabs, but only to the Jews, “as the Bible says”.
Ben Gvir’s political origins go back to the ideology of Meir Kahane (1932-1990), an extremist rabbi who advocated the creation of a biblical Israeli kingdom and the deportation of the Arabs.
He now claims to be more moderate and is no longer in favor of expelling Arabs unless they are “disloyal to Israel”, but many believe that this is just a strategy to avoid scaring off less radical voters.
“Ben Gvir moderates his statements, but defends the same extreme ideas of the past,” Michael Warshansky, an Israeli intellectual, told EFE, for whom his growing popularity is evidence of the “progressive right-wing” of Israel towards extremist positions.
SUPPORT AMONG MARGINALIZED SECTORS
According to Hermann, most of his voters will be “young men from the lower-middle class” and from sectors that feel marginalized within society. Most of them have Mizrahi roots (Jews from Arab countries) and are residents of peripheral and impoverished localities.
“Many people who are discriminated against by political institutions consider Ben Gvir the voice that represents them,” says the teacher, who identifies ultra-Orthodox Jews, nationalist and religious settlers among them, as well as secular citizens.