National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir plans to represent the government at the European Union Embassy’s Europe Day celebration on Tuesday, despite clear signals that the far-right politician is unwanted.
EU member state ambassadors in Israel are planning to meet on Monday to decide how to respond to Ben-Gvir’s planned attendance.
A cabinet minister represents the government at major embassy events throughout the year. Upon receiving an invitation to the event, the cabinet secretary asks the ministers who are free at that time, the Prime Minister’s Office said. Ben-Gvir volunteered to attend the EU event.
Upon hearing who would attend its party, the European Union asked the Foreign Ministry to replace him. European ambassadors have refused to meet with Ben-Gvir or members of his party because of their far-right stances.
The EU Embassy stated that “as it does every year, it has asked the Government of Israel to honor us by sending a representative of the government to attend our event. We have not yet received a formal notice from the Foreign Ministry in this regard.
“We do not endorse the political views of Ben-Gvir or those of his party. In fact, many of his previous statements and views contradict the values the European Union stands for,” the embassy spokesperson stated on Saturday.
Ben-Gvir’s office said the following morning that the minister will attend in spite of the statement from the EU.
“The minister believes that even if EU representatives ‘do not endorse [his] political views,’ as they said in their statement, they understand very well that Israel is a democracy, and in a democracy one can hear different views,” Ben-Gvir’s spokesman said.
Ben-Gvir to address terrorism
In his speech at the Europe Day party, the minister plans to address the importance of fighting terrorism together, to call for greater cooperation and unity on that front and to say European governments should not fund initiatives that are “against IDF soldiers and residents of Israel.”
The Europe Day debacle comes the week after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Brussels and announced “a new page” in Israel-EU relations, including a high-level meeting in Jerusalem meant to strengthen ties.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, a former foreign minister, said “sending Itamar Ben-Gvir to a gathering of EU ambassadors is a severe professional mistake.
“The government is embarrassing a large group of friendly states, endangering future votes in international institutions and damaging our foreign relations,” Lapid said.
Lapid said Ben-Gvir’s actions risk agreements between Israel and the EU, which would boost Israel’s economy.
“Why should we endanger that? Ben-Gvir is not a legitimate person in the international community – and not really in Israel either – and sometimes you need to be smart and right and just send someone else,” he said.
"Ben-Gvir is not a legitimate person in the international community – and not really in Israel either – and sometimes you need be smart and right and just send someone else."Yair Lapid
Ben-Gvir is an acolyte of the ideology of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who believed in paying Arabs to leave Israel, among other things, and served one term in the Knesset before being banned for running due to incitement to racism.
Ben-Gvir was a member of the Kahane-inspired Kach movement, which was designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU and others. In recent years, he claimed his views are more moderate than Kahane’s – for example, he would only want to deport Arabs who hate Israel – but he is still the most prominent symbol of the Israeli far Right.
Israel has boycotted antisemitic European politicians over the years, such as former Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Austrian Freedom Party was founded by ex-Nazis, or the Sweden Democrats party, which has Nazi and white nationalist roots.