The extremist Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a long record of anti-Arab rhetoric and stuntswill be the country’s next national security minister, according to the first of what are expected to be several coalition deals struck by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Likud announced an agreement with Ben-Gvir’s ruling Jewish party on Friday. Negotiations with three other potential far-right and 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 assignment of such a sensitive role to Ben-Gvir raises concerns of a further escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Ben-Gvir and his allies hope to grant immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot at Palestinians, deport rival lawmakers and impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews.
Ben-Gvir is a disciple of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was banned from parliament and whose Kach party was labeled a terrorist group by the United States before he was assassinated in New York in 1990.
Ahead of Israel’s Nov. 1 election, Ben-Gvir made headlines for his anti-Palestinian speeches and stunts, including brandishing a gun and urging police to open fire on Palestinian stone throwers in an already tense Jerusalem neighborhood.
Before becoming a lawyer and entering politics, he was convicted of offenses that include inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization.
In his new role, Ben-Gvir would, among other things, be in charge of the police, enabling him to implement some of the harsh policies against the Palestinians he has championed for years.
As part of the coalition agreement, the Ministry of Internal Security will be renamed the Ministry of National Security and given expanded powers, Likud said on Friday.
As head of the ministry, Ben-Gvir would oversee the police and the paramilitary Border Police, which operate alongside Israeli soldiers in Palestinian population centers.
Likud lawmaker Yaron Levin hailed the agreement, which was signed on Thursday, as “the first agreement on the road to establishing a stable right wing led by Benjamin Netanyahu”.
Ben-Gvir did not enter parliament until 2021, after his Jewish ruling party merged with the Religious Zionism party. Ben-Gvir’s closest political ally, the leader of Religious Zionism, Bezalel Smotrich, is conducting separate negotiations with Likud, which emerged as the largest party in the election.
Netanyahu has balked at some of the demands, such as Smotrich seeking the defense ministry. Talks focus on the conditions under which Smotrich would become finance minister.