In advance of any Israeli election, there is usually a reshuffling of political parties, as alliances are formed or broken and candidates consider how to use the electoral threshold to their advantage. Among the most significant in the lead up to the November 1 elections is the merger between the Religious Zionism party and the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, led by the controversial Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose support in Israel has grown in the aftermath of the 2021 conflict between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. The merger of these parties promises to increase the parliamentary clout of the former party, while allowing the latter’s candidates to obtain the minimum number of votes necessary for representation in the Knesset. Yossi Klein Halevi is concerned about the effect that Ben-Gvir could have on Israeli politics:
For all the tensions, most Arabs and Jews have learned the habit of practical coexistence. This is one of Israeli society’s most impressive if largely unacknowledged achievements. Despite the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Arabs and Jews interact, often easily and sometimes intimately, in parks and shopping malls and hospitals, as neighbors. Ben-Gvir and his allies regard such interaction as intolerable.
Though Ben-Gvir claims to have abandoned the extremism of his Kahanist youth, he continues to revere as his spiritual leader the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who created a racist theology that places hatred and vengeance at the core of Judaism. Until a few years ago, a photograph of Baruch Goldstein, the mass-murderer of Hebron, hung in Ben-Gvir’s living room; he removed it only when its presence began to cause him political damage. Ben Gvir’s long-term goal of expelling Arabs from Israel remains unchanged: last week he urged the creation of a government “emigration office” to encourage Arabs to leave.
Ben-Gvir and his allies regard this interaction as intolerable. Ben-Gvir, who was rejected from army service because of a conviction for terrorist activity and who, buffoon-like, draws his pistol when even slightly provoked (as he did during a verbal altercation with an Arab over a parking spot), is presenting himself as the answer to Israel’s security needs. But what he’s really offering is a vision of the Lebanonization of Israeli society, where the central authority has collapsed and been replaced by rival militias. Instead of the IDF, we will be protected by Jewish street gangs, like the hilltop youth who attack random Palestinians and even IDF soldiers.