JERUSALEM — Extremist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a long history of anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts, will become Israel’s next national security minister, according to the first of what are expected to be several coalition deals struck by Israel’s Likud. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrating.
Likud on Friday announced the deal with Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party.
Negotiations with three other potential far-right, ultra-Orthodox coalition partners continue. If successful, Netanyahu would return to the prime minister’s office and preside over the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history.
The attribution of the sensitive role to Ben-Gvir raises fears of a new escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Ben-Gvir and his allies hope to grant immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinians, deport rival lawmakers and impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews.
Ben-Gvir is the disciple of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was banned from parliament and whose Kach party was branded a terrorist group by the United States before he was assassinated in New York in 1990.
Ahead of the November 1 Israeli elections, Ben-Gvir made headlines for his anti-Palestinian speeches and stunts, including brandishing a pistol and encouraging police to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers in a neighborhood stretched from Jerusalem.
Before becoming a lawyer and entering politics, he was convicted of offenses such as inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization.
In his new role, he would be responsible for policing, among other things, which would allow him to implement some of the hardline policies against Palestinians he has advocated for years.
Under the coalition deal, the current Ministry of Homeland Security would be renamed the Ministry of National Security and given expanded powers, Likud said Friday.
As head of the ministry, Ben-Gvir would oversee the police and paramilitary border police that operate alongside Israeli soldiers in Palestinian population centers.
Likud MK Yaron Levin hailed the deal, which was signed on Thursday, as “the first agreement on the road to establishing a stable right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Ben-Gvir first entered parliament in 2021, after his Jewish Power party merged with the Religious Zionism party. Ben-Gvir’s closest political ally, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, is in separate talks with Likud, which has emerged as the biggest party in the elections.
Netanyahu balked at some of the requests, such as Smotrich seeking the Defense Ministry. Talks are currently focused on the terms under which Smotrich would become finance minister.