Israel's Netanyahu refuses to be in photos with extremist ally Ben-Gvir

The two politicians attended a Simhat Torah event on Monday night, although Itamar Ben-Gvir was told he could not be on the stage at the same time as Benjamin Netanyahu.

 L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is refusing to be photographed with - or even seen with - Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, according to Hebrew media reports on Tuesday morning.

Both the Likud leader and his far-right ally attended a Simhat Torah celebration at Kfar Chabad on Monday night, although tensions reportedly arose between them after Ben-Gvir was told he needed to step off the stage in order for Netanyahu to go up onto it, as he did not wish to be photographed with the Otzma Yehudit leader.

In videos of the event, several of the organizers can be seen approaching Ben-Gvir, demanding that he step away in order for Netanyahu to go onto the stage. In one clip, an organizer can be heard saying that "he [Netanyahu] won't go up if Itamar doesn't go down." 

After several minutes of arguing with the organizers, the Otzma Yehudit leader did eventually step down, allowing Netanyahu to ascend the stage and address the waiting crowds.

During the disagreement, one of Netanyahu's associates was also overheard explaining to Ben-Gvir that "an image of the two of you will prevent the option of forming a broad government with Gantz."

 A billboard of then-Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) , as part of Otzma Yehudit election campaign, in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, February 28, 2020.  (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90) A billboard of then-Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) , as part of Otzma Yehudit election campaign, in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, February 28, 2020. (credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)

How did Ben-Gvir respond to the incident?

Responding to the incident on Tuesday morning, Ben-Gvir said that was "disappointed," adding that it was not Netanyahu he was disappointed in, but rather "those around Netanyahu and the disgruntled Likud MKs who prefer a government with Gantz."

Earlier this month, the two politicians met in order to discuss coordinating their campaign tactics ahead of the November 1 elections. The two agreed that they would not campaign among groups seen as each other's "natural constituents." However, despite the meeting being widely reported, no pictures were released of the two men together.

The incident in Kfar Chabad comes several weeks after pro-Israel US Sen. Robert Menendez warned Netanyahu against partnering with extremist leaders, such Ben-Gvir, who is currently predicted to gain 13 seats in his combined list with Bezalel Smotrich's Religious Zionist Party.

Ben-Gvir, a former member of the Kach Party that was banned in Israel and deemed a terror organization in 1994 for its extremist Kahanist views, first came to public attention the following year, inciting violence against then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, just weeks before he was assassinated. After merging Otzma Yehudit with the Religious Zionist Party, he was elected to the Knesset for the first time in March 2021. 

Despite initially announcing that he would be splitting from Smotrich's party for the November 2022 elections, Ben-Gvir later retracted the statement, saying that at the request of Netanyahu he would once again run on a combined list of the Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit and Noam.