Interview. Journalist and analyst Meron Rapoport says the far right is reacting to increasing success on the part of the Palestinian minority in Israel. ‘In the eyes of young people and others, Ben Gvir represents Jewish supremacy.’

Meron Rapoport: Israeli supremacist Ben Gvir will be the real prime minister

The bloc of far-right and religious parties supporting Benyamin Netanyahu won 64 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset, according to the final (but unofficial) results of the November 1 elections.

The first party is Likud with 32 seats, followed by the centrists of the outgoing premier Yair Lapid with 24 seats, and Religious Zionism, which raised its total from seven to 14 seats, becoming the third party in Israel.

Meretz (the Zionist Left) is out of parliament for the first time in 30 years.

The success of Religious Zionism, an ultranationalist formation with obvious racist overtones, and the enormous popularity gained by its leader Itamar Ben Gvir, are stirring up debate and bringing up fears and worries in that part of the country that does not identify with the victorious Right.

Meanwhile, the tensions in the West Bank are not diminishing: on Thursday, three more Palestinians were killed, two in raids by the Israeli army in Jenin and one during protests against the occupation in Beit Duqu. A fourth Palestinian, who had wounded a policeman, was killed in Jerusalem.

On the subject of the repercussions of the electoral victory of the right wing led by Netanyahu and Ben Gvir, we interviewed Meron Rapoport, former editor-in-chief of the daily Haaretz and now an analyst for several Israeli and foreign newspapers.

Many are writing and saying that on Tuesday, a “Kahanist” and “biblical” revolution took place, carried out by the Religious Zionism party of Itamar Ben Gvir, the right-wing extremist follower of the racist Meir Kahane, and the supporters of Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Do you agree?

Biblicism has little to do with it. We are facing a new phenomenon, a party (Religious Zionism) that does not depend on Netanyahu. On the contrary, it is Netanyahu who depends on this party, which is a fascist party, not neo-fascist. A force that clearly expresses its racism and claims that Jews have more rights than others. That this land is only for them. And those who oppose this regime can be killed as terrorists or they can be deported, even if they are Jews. We have not seen this since 1948 [since the Palestinian Nakba].

Itamar Ben Gvir has been made into an acceptable figure in the country and for most pro-Israel organizations in the world, whereas, until recently, he was being kept on the sidelines. Could this give green light to the implementation of his agenda if and when he becomes Minister of Public Security?

We don’t know at this point what he will do and whether he will have the power to do it. The opposition of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship [Israeli Arabs] and those in the Occupied Territories and the possible pressure of the international community will also count for something. The Biden administration has already made it known that it will not meet or cooperate with Ben Gvir. This is not 1948, (Ben Gvir) cannot do whatever he wants, the Israeli and international political landscape is not what it was 74 years ago. At the same time, there is the significant fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis who voted for him knowing full well what he says and what he wants to do. Ben Gvir will be the strongman of the new government, Netanyahu is only a figurehead; this too will weigh in the future dynamics.

If the new government were to implement even part of the Religious Zionism agenda, do you foresee a real risk of civil war between Jews and Arabs in Israel and increasingly violent confrontation between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories?

“Civil war” is a big word, but widespread, ongoing violence in the West Bank and mixed cities of Israel is possible. We are at a delicate time, when it is difficult to predict everything that will happen on the ground in response to certain policies. I recall that the police chief, Kobi Shabtai, said last year during the protests in (the Palestinian neighborhood of) Sheikh Jarrah, in Jerusalem, that much of the violence was caused by Ben Gvir’s provocations. Before long, Ben Gvir could be his boss.

Why has the leader of Religious Zionism become a hero, a myth, to so many young right-wing Israelis, including the ultra-orthodox religious ones?

In the eyes of young people and not only, Ben Gvir represents Jewish supremacy. The leader of Religious Zionism, like his many supporters, has pointed to the strengthening of the Palestinian minority in Israel on the level of economics, university education and in other fields. In hospitals there are many Arab doctors; same in universities. So the Jews who live in the suburbs, in the most marginalized areas of the country, think that the Arabs have advanced more than they have. Ben Gvir and his voters saw an Arab party (the Islamist Raam, n.ed.) enter the government and play a role on the national political stage. And that the center-left accepted it, it’s not clear how willingly, but they did accept it. All this, in their view, endangers Jewish supremacy in Israel.

How much did the end, or the lessening, of external threats influence the explosion of the Ben Gvir phenomenon?

Quite a lot. The failure of the project to annex the West Bank to Israel in 2020, de facto in exchange for the signing of the Abrahamic Accords between Israel and some Arab countries, made it clear that the conflict is no longer external. For Ben Gvir, this conflict is now inside Israel. He says little about the settlers in the West Bank, although he himself is a settler from Hebron. His political discourse is centered on the conflict he sees inside Israel. The right is now focusing on the supposed internal threat: Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

Is there room for a glimmer of hope in this dark picture?

Maybe these ongoing processes could lead the Jewish left in Israel to rethink its relationship with the Palestinian minority. Jews on the left, and those in the center too, must understand that without rights for that minority, democracy itself is in jeopardy. The survival of democracy for Jews depends on democracy for Palestinian Arab citizens.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!