Israeli far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir says he is now moderate and has 'grown up'

'I've come to understand that life is more complicated,' 46-year-old tells Israel's most-read newspaper

Israeli far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir has been criticised for his past actions including membership in the outlawed militant group Kach. AP
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Far-right Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is being lined up for a senior post in the next Israeli government, on Monday sought to reassure the country's minorities that he would safeguard them.

"I've grown up, I've moderated and I've come to understand that life is more complicated," the 46-year-old told Israel's most-read newspaper Hayom.

But he made no mention of Palestinians who feel especially threatened by his rise.

After last week's Israeli election win, conservative former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's most powerful likely coalition ally is Religious Zionism, a party led by ultranationalist Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, which has teamed up with Mr Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit.

Religious Zionism, like other Israeli parties on the right, opposes Palestinian statehood.

Mr Ben-Gvir has received intense scrutiny in Israel and abroad for his past actions including membership in the outlawed militant group Kach and a criminal conviction for anti-Arab incitement.

Whereas he once called for the mass expulsion of Israel's Arab citizens, Mr Ben-Gvir now says he wants that only for those he considers terrorists or traitors, including some of the 21 per cent minority representatives in parliament.

Retweeting a picture appearing to show one of the politicians, Ahmad Tibi, at an airport, Mr Ben-Gvir commented: "We triumphed". He deleted this, posting as a new caption: "It's about time! May we have only such tidings, and may they not come back."

Mr Tibi retorted on Twitter that Mr Ben-Gvir's newspaper article was a "joke".

On Sunday, Religious Zionism co-head Bezalel Smotrich drew centre-left anger by suggesting the state had a hand in the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish zealot bent on stopping territorial handovers to Palestinians.

Mr Smotrich said rightists were correct to protest Mr Rabin's policies at a memorial ceremony in parliament. He said security services had "used irresponsible manipulation, which to this day has not been fully exposed, to encourage the murderer".

He appeared to be alluding to the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency's running of an agent provocateur among far-right activists in the lead up to the assassination — a matter addressed by a state commission of inquiry and court trials.

In his article, titled "A Letter to My Brethren on the Left", Mr Ben-Gvir said nothing about US-sponsored Israeli talks on Palestinian statehood, which stalled in 1994 and which the Biden administration said on Saturday that it wants to revive.

Mr Ben-Gvir has further called for dismantling the interim Palestinian Authority, which governs in parts of the West Bank, a move that would effectively return Palestinians to open-ended Israeli rule without national rights.

Focusing on internal issues, Mr Ben-Gvir, who wants to become police minister, said he would tackle crime faced by Israel's Arabs, arguing that past governments had ignored them.

Asserting that he and liberals "agree on 90 per cent of issues", he said he would neither seek to impose religious law nor curb freedom of dissent.

Updated: November 08, 2022, 7:11 AM
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