Israel Elections 2022: Meet the Far-Right Politician Who Could Help Bring Back Benjamin Netanyahu
Tel Aviv – Israelis will vote on Tuesday for the fifth time in just four years who should lead their country. The elections are intended to determine who will fill the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset. There are 13 different political parties that field candidates. If a party achieves a simple majority of 61 seats, it could form a new government.
Recent polls show no party will win 61 seats this week, so the leader of the party that wins the most votes gets the first chance to work with other parties to form the 61 seats in the Knesset and form a coalition government . If the party with the most votes cannot form a coalition, the second-placed party gets a chance.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was ousted last year after a dozen years in power, is urging Israeli voters to give him another shot at the country’s top post despite a corruption case. Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, on the other hand, hopes that his brief stint as head of the interim government that took over after Netanyahu’s ouster has proven his ability as a leader.
But neither Netanyahu’s hardline Likud party nor Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid are likely to win the 61 seats alone. As such, both men will seek to form potential coalitions with other, smaller political parties to form the 61 seats in the Knesset needed to form a government.
If both Netanyahu and Lapid fail to negotiate sufficient support from smaller parties, Israel could be forced to hold more elections. With much of the population keen to put politics aside in favor of governance following the rapid succession of elections, some smaller parties will seek to act as kingmakers.
Polls ahead of this week’s election gave Netanyahu a slim advantage over Lapid. If the embattled former prime minister beats his main opponent in the polls, he could turn to a rising star on Israel’s far right, current Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, to form a coalition.
Ben-Gvir leads a party called Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). Ben-Gvir, a resident of a Jewish settlement in Hebron and a supporter of ultranationalist American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, was elected to parliament in the last round of elections in 2021. Not long before, he was a divisive figure, largely looming on the fringes of Israel’s far-right.
His first moment in the limelight came in 1995 when he stole the Cadillac badge from Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin’s car. Holding the Cadillac badge up to a TV camera, Ben-Gvir said, “The way we got to his car, we’ll get to him.”
Rabin was assassinated just weeks later by a far-right Jewish nationalist.
Since then, Ben-Gvir has had countless clashes with police and a number of court cases. He was found guilty of inciting racism for taking part in attacks on Arabs and supporting a Jewish nationalist terrorist cell. When he was 18, the Israeli Defense Forces refused to conscript him into the army.
Ben-Gvir went to law school and then sued the Israeli government for false allegations, and he won. Since then he has defended right-wing extremists as a lawyer.
As an activist, he became popular with marginalized groups in Israeli society, including young ultra-Orthodox Jews who felt they did not fit into the existing ultra-Orthodox establishment. Ben-Gvir also became a hero in some slums, popping up and supporting movements against foreign migration, particularly from Africa. He has also expressed anti-LGTBQ views.
In recent years, Ben-Gvir has led the nationalist Jerusalem Day “March of the Flags,” which has become a focal point between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2021 the Chaos surrounding the march led to a full-scale conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The politician is known to have appeared at every clash between Palestinians and Israelis in disputed East Jerusalem, even pointing a gun at such flare-ups.
In 2021, Ben-Gvir merged with two other right-wing parties, the Religious Zionist Party and Noam. For the upcoming elections, Ben-Gvir threatened to leave the alliance but rejoined to ensure the parties get enough votes to cross the threshold needed to hold seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu helped orchestrate this partnership, knowing he will need both parties to join any coalition he hopes to form.
Recent polls show Ben-Gvir’s party could win more than a dozen seats itself, and if Netanyahu forms the next government he could even give his far-right ally a seat in the cabinet.
Ben-Gvir’s rise has fueled fear among Israel’s center and left-wing Israelis. Some believe he poses the greatest threat Israeli democracy has ever faced.