In his first (brief, or at least highly abridged) interview with a Western news outlet since his election to the Israeli government in 2022, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took a swipe at US President Joe Biden on Sunday, telling Dov Leiber of The Wall Street Journal that “if Trump [were] in power, the US conduct would be completely different.”
The brief profile, which only included a handful of statements by Ben-Gvir alongside two menacing portraits shot by Jordanian-American photographer Tanya Habjouqa, focused on the political leverage the once-fringe politician has accumulated since being shepherded into the mainstream during Netanyahu’s year-long campaign to return to Balfour Street following his ouster in 2021.
Ben-Gvir, who has reportedly been indicted dozens of times for his participation in far-right political activism and was convicted in 2007 of incitement to racism, was known for years to have a photo on his wall of the late Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, near Kiryat Arba, the settlement Ben-Gvir calls home.
He is also known for his affiliation with the followers of Meir Kahane, the Brooklyn-born extremist rabbi who called for the forced expulsion of millions of Palestinians. Kahane’s political party is a proscribed terrorist group in Israel, and Ben-Gvir has denied that he still holds classically Kahanist views, although he has praised the Orthodox provocateur, who was assassinated by a Palestinian gunman in New York in 1990, as a visionary.
Opposition pol to WSJ: Ben-Gvir “makes it harder for us to fight the war”
The Wall Street Journal article drew a connection between Ben-Gvir’s rejection of a potential hostage deal that would involve a significant release of Palestinian prisoners and the Prime Minister’s announcement later that day that he too would oppose such a deal. “There are signs that Ben-Gvir has a growing influence in the debate,” the author wrote, “and Netanyahu increasingly needs him.”
“God willing, I will go far,” Ben-Gvir told the paper.
The article paid particular attention to Ben-Gvir’s advocacy for a return to Jewish settlement in Gaza, which hosted several Israeli communities until their dismantlement in 2005 as part of Israel’s disengagement from the Strip.
The minister told the Journal that he supports the encouragement of “voluntary” resettlement by Palestinians outside the Strip, phraseology that— as the Journal noted— reads to some as a dog whistle for expulsion and causes, in the words of an Israeli official quoted in the piece, a “headache” for Netanyahu.
“When Ben-Gvir opens his mouth, he creates a backlash that makes it harder for us to fight the war and bring hostages home,” an opposition official told the Journal.
The statement mirrors the opinion of a Jerusalem Post editorial following a conference at which Ben-Gvir was a featured speaker: “For the good of the country,” the editorial board wrote, “Netanyahu must rein in these ministers and face the challenges of Gaza’s future with reasoned logic.”
A Maariv poll last week found that Netanyahu has regained a small amount of ground since his support plummeted in the wake of the October 7 attacks, but that he and his government remain decisively behind the opposition, and would lose their mandate were an election to be held today.