Will Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir bring Israel back to the Dark Ages? - opinion

Israel's new leaders want to drag us back to the Dark Ages, imposing their beliefs and bigoted views on the rest of us.

 THE ANNUAL gay pride parade in Tel Aviv takes place, in June. There is a very real possibility that Tel Aviv as a gay capital of the world will soon become a thing of the past, says the writer. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
THE ANNUAL gay pride parade in Tel Aviv takes place, in June. There is a very real possibility that Tel Aviv as a gay capital of the world will soon become a thing of the past, says the writer.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Where does the election leave us?

Those free-thinking, hard-working, progressive pioneers, responsible for turning this once barren land into a hopeful, bright, blossoming country, would be turning in their graves if they knew what had transpired of late. 

Benjamin Netanyahu – having brokered a merger between right-wing extremists, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, together forming the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist Party – was able to secure a remarkable comeback.

His newly elected government, in which women hardly feature, will likely comprise the Likud party, the Religious Zionist Party, and two ultra-Orthodox parties. 

Our new leaders want to drag us back to the Dark Ages, imposing their beliefs and bigoted views on the rest of us.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU speaks to the media in Tel Aviv, last week. Will he bow out of Israeli politics this year?  (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU speaks to the media in Tel Aviv, last week. Will he bow out of Israeli politics this year? (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

The bigoted views of Israel's new leaders

Perhaps the first sector of society likely to suffer will be the LGBTQ+ community. No longer will all Israelis be able to express themselves freely and openly. Whereas in other countries in the region gay people are beheaded, simply for being gay, here in Israel we are proud of our open, inclusive and tolerant society. 

Sadly, however, there is a very real possibility that Tel Aviv, a gay capital of the world, will soon become a thing of the past and gay pride will be all but a happy memory.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party, the third largest in the newly formed parliament, once described himself as a “proud homophobe.”

In 2006, he was involved in organizing an anti-gay “Beast Parade” in Jerusalem in response to the city’s annual Gay Pride parade. Anti-gay activists marched through the city with goats and donkeys to highlight what they called “deviant acts” of same-sex relationships.

“At home, everyone can be abnormal and people can form whatever family unit they want, but they can’t make demands from me, as the state,” he told students in a recording obtained by Army Radio. 

“At home, everyone can be abnormal and people can form whatever family unit they want, but they can’t make demands from me, as the state.”

Bezalel Smotrich

When challenged by a student, who called his remarks homophobic, he retorted, “I am a proud homophobe.”

He’s since attempted to distance himself from those remarks, blaming youth and stupidity for his transgression. However, there has been no substantive or meaningful alteration to his anti-gay stance.

AS RECENTLY as 2019, Smotrich also advocated strongly in favor of running the justice system along the lines of religious Jewish law. Separation of “church and state,” something that progressive Western society holds dear, is an anathema to this man. Instead, he believes that the country should aspire to run itself as “in the days of King David.” 

“The Jewish people is a special people that need to live according to the Torah,” he told KAN radio. 

And it’s not beyond the realms of possibility – indeed, some believe it is quite plausible – that other areas of everyday life will be affected due to the Religious Zionist Party’s influence. Jewish conversion may face stricter rules, and permits given to some stores and supermarkets in secular areas to remain open on Shabbat may be canceled. Smotrich is also calling for football games that are held on Shabbat to be canceled too. 

Most worrying, the powers of the Supreme Court will likely be curtailed under the RZP’s watch. Smotrich, who is eyeing the position of justice minister, said that the Supreme Court “has been a bugbear of the Israeli right for years, owing in large part to it overturning – or striking down – government legislation, or preventing government decisions from being carried out,” according to an i24NEWS report. 

In what is widely perceived to be a blow to democracy, “leading politicians in the presumptive coalition want to pass a so-called “override clause,” which would enable a majority or super-majority in parliament to override court rulings. 

It’s a slippery slope and scary, echoing that of Iran and other fascist/theocratic states. The emasculation of the courts and an independent judiciary is, of course, one of the very hallmarks of fascism. That it comes in the form of a kippah-wearing Jew does not make it any less so. 

RACISM IS another of his revolting qualities. 

Last year, Smotrich said that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, should have “finished the job” and kicked all Arabs out of the country when it was founded.

He also believes that Arab and Jewish mothers should be segregated in maternity hospitals. “It’s only natural that my wife would not want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby who might murder her baby in another 20 years,” he tweeted.

Ben-Gvir, Smotrich’s partner, is arguably even more extreme in his views.

Haaretz labeled him “One of the best-known faces of right-wing radicalism in Israel.” As a lawyer, he is famed for defending radicals suspected in cases of Jewish terror and hate crimes.

An impartial legal system that affords everyone a fair trial is not his reason for taking on such clients; rather, it’s ideology and a sincere belief that their actions are justified. He has defended many “hilltop youths” whose aim is to build illegal settlements. Whereas the majority of Israelis see them as criminals, Ben-Gvir calls them the “salt of the earth”.

“These kids who settle the hilltops of Judea and Samaria are the biggest Zionists that exist.”

“You understand that I don’t do it for the money,” he said in an interview with Haaretz in 2016. “The reason I do it is because I truly believe I need to help these people.” 

In his teens, Ben-Gvir became a disciple of Meir Kahane, having joined Kach, the racist party founded by the American-born Kahane, which was later outlawed.

“I found in this movement a lot of love for the Jewish people, a lot of truth, and a lot of justice,” he said.

Ben-Gvir experienced his first taste of fame a few weeks before the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, when he appeared on television brandishing a Cadillac emblem stolen from his car. He threatened: “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him, too.” The man was as good as his word when on November 4, 1995, Yigal Amir, (another Rabbi Meir Kahane devotee) did indeed “get to him,” gunning him down after a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Ben-Gvir’s reputation as a teen provocateur (he has been indicted more than 50 times for various forms of incitement), led to his disqualification from serving in the army. “The IDF lost out when they didn’t take me,” he lamented. Many would beg to differ.

Only last month, Ben-Gvir’s actions during clashes between Jewish settlers and the local Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, served as a timely reminder that the army made the right decision. Instead of trying to quell the situation, Ben-Gvir fanned the flames by brandishing a gun and telling the police to shoot at the Palestinian stone-throwers. “We’re the landlords here, remember that, I am your landlord,” he shouted.

Until 2020, Ben-Gvir had a photograph of the American-Israeli terrorist, Baruch Goldstein, in his home. In 1994, Goldstein massacred 29 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs. He removed the photo as a matter of political expediency to “soften” his image. 

SMOTRICH AND Ben-Gvir are unarguably the big winners in last week’s election. 

There has been much speculation regarding how they will behave in government; whether they will mellow, becoming more moderate with the responsibilities of office.

This is wishful thinking. The best guide to future conduct is past behavior. Too many seek to excuse or explain their history. 

At Netanyahu’s instigation, their union has placed them at the helm of the largest component of the bloc that will form the next government. As a result, they are in a position to demand and expect powerful positions. They will not be easily fobbed off with peripheral jobs.

Ben-Gvir, a man who has had numerous brushes with the law, has made no secret of his desire to become public security minister. This is a man with a  history of incitement. The very idea that he could, within weeks, be the overlord of Israel’s police force beggars belief.

There are, of course, many who contend that their ambitions will be thwarted by the less radical elements in the coalition. What that fails to take into account is, while Netanyahu may not support the more extreme ideological designs of the Religious Zionist Party, he desperately needs such legislation for entirely personal reasons.

Make no mistake – there will be the Israeli version of the so-called “French Law” prohibiting the investigation and prosecution of a sitting prime minister. Lo and behold, the case of “The State of Israel vs Benjamin Netanyahu” will disappear into the ether.

To those who seek to deny or minimize the dangers posed to the future well-being of Israel by the likes of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, I borrow the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.