Who is Itamar Ben-Gvir, the loyal student of Meir Kahane? - opinion

He presents himself regularly as being a follower of Kahane and speaks passionately about Kahane at annual memorial ceremonies for his rabbi and teacher.

Itamar Ben Gvir (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Itamar Ben Gvir
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
According to public opinion polls, Itamar Ben-Gvir will become a member of Knesset on March 23. Just who is this guy and what does he and his compatriots believe in?
They are students of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, and they have for decades preached the same kind of dangerous, racist and hateful politics that Kahane fostered. These political ideas and messages were once considered illegitimate in Israeli political culture, now they are being advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is worthwhile to recall what Kahane stood for and what is being presented to the public now. When Kahane and his Kach Party were elected to the Knesset in 1984 with 25,907 votes, most of Israeli society was embarrassed by the election of a racist, hate-preaching disgrace to Israeli democracy. One hundred and eighteen members of Knesset boycotted Kahane and left the Knesset plenary any time he spoke. The sitting chairman of Knesset would have to stay in the chamber but consistently tried to prevent Kahane from submitting Legislation.
Eventually, the Israeli Supreme Court instructed that Kahane be allowed to present legislation proposals. The most famous of these was a set of laws to physically separate Jewish and Arab citizens. A young member of the Knesset from the Likud, Miki Eitan, immediate presented a comparison of Kahane’s proposal with the infamous Nuremberg Laws that were antisemitic and racist laws enacted in Nazi Germany on September 15, 1935, at a special meeting of the Reichstag convened during the annual Nuremberg rally of the Nazi Party. The following is a text of that comparison.
Kahane’s proposal
• Separation at beaches – Separate beaches will be established for Jews and non-Jews. A person of one people found on the beach destined for a member of the second people will be subject to six months’ imprisonment.
• Non-Jewish status
A. Non-Jews in the State of Israel will be without any national rights and without any part in political proceedings in the State of Israel. A non-Jew will not be able to be appointed to any position of authority and will not be able to vote in elections to the Knesset or to any other state and public body.
B. Non-Jews will be obliged to assume duties, taxes and slavery. If he does not agree to slavery and taxes, he will be forcibly deported.
• Restriction of residence – A non-Jew will not live within the jurisdiction of the city of Jerusalem.
• Prohibition on intermarriage – Jewish citizens of the country are not allowed to marry non-Jews, both in Israel and abroad. Such intermarriage will not be recognized as marriage at all.
• Extra-marital relations between Jews and non-Jews
A. Jews of the State of Israel are not allowed to have full or partial marital relations of any kind with non-Jews, even outside of marriage. Anyone breaching this section is liable to imprisonment for two years.
B. A non-Jew who has a marital relationship with a Jew is liable to 50 years in prison. A Jewish prostitute or a Jewish male who has an affair with a non-Jewish male is sentenced to five years in prison.
Nazi legislation
• Separation in swimming pools and kit places
A. Jews are not allowed to enter public swimming pools.
B. In places of sanitation and healing, Jews and non-Jews must be separated. To this end, Jews must be accommodated in separate hotels and boarding houses.
• The status of the Jews – Jews cannot be citizens of the Reich. They have no political right to vote and cannot hold public office.
• Restriction of residence – Apartments in Berlin and Munich that have been rented to Jews will not be re-rented to Jews without special permission
• Prohibition on intermarriage – Marriages between Jews and citizens of the state with German blood or blood close to it: Marriages that were conducted in violation of the law are prohibited even if they were held abroad.
• Extra-marital relations between Jews and citizens of the Reich
A. Relationships outside of marriage between Jews and citizens of the state with German blood or blood close to it are prohibited
B. Jews are not allowed to employ in their homes citizens of a country with German blood or with blood close to it.
KAHANE DID not mince words. These are some of his very own:
“Surely it is time for Jews, worried over the huge growth of Arabs in Israel, to consider finishing the exchange of populations that began 35 years ago.”
“I know that elections must be limited only to those who understand that the Arabs are the deadly enemy of the Jewish state, who would bring on us a slow Auschwitz – not with gas, but with knives and hatchets.”
“There is no greater antisemite than the Jewish one, and none hates the Jewish people more than the Jewish traitor and apostate.”
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu’s new political ally, is one of the most loyal students of Kahane. He presents himself regularly as being a follower of Kahane and speaks passionately about Kahane at annual memorial ceremonies for his rabbi and teacher. Otzma Yehudit, Kahane’s followers’ “legal” rendition of the outlawed Kach Party, includes a number of self-declared Kahanists, among them Michael Ben-Ari, who was denied a US visa in 2012 over his ties to Kach; Baruch Marzel, who served as Kahane’s secretary in the Knesset; Bentzi Gopstein, a former student of the extremist rabbi and anti-LGBT activist who regularly faces charges of incitement to violence, racism and terrorism; and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who as a teenager was active in Kach and is now largely known for representing Jewish terrorist suspects.
Ben-Gvir’s running mate, Bezalel Smotrich, has made a number of infamous statements:
“The Palestinian people are an invented a people a day-and-a-half ago. The Palestinian people never existed and a Palestinian state will never be established.”
“My wife is truly no racist, but after giving birth she wants to rest rather than have a hafla [a mass feast often accompanied by music and dancing] like the Arabs have after their births. It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie down [in a bed] next to a woman who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby 20 years from now. Arabs are my enemies, and that’s why I don’t enjoy being next to them.”
His wife, Revital, told Israel’s Channel 10 that she had “kicked an Arab obstetrician out of the [delivery] room. I want Jewish hands to touch my baby, and I wasn’t comfortable lying in the same room with an Arab woman. I refuse to have an Arab midwife, because for me giving birth is a Jewish and pure moment.”
Preaching these racists ideas in any genuine democracy would not be permitted. They are direct incitement against entire segments of the population. Their rise to legitimacy sponsored by Netanyahu is just one more reason of many that his reign must come to an end.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.