Kahanism’s Raucous Return

Israeli far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks on his cellphone during his visit to the Al Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, March 31st, 2022. (credit: Ilia Yefimovich/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Image)
The November 2022 elections has given Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, a follower of far-right ideologue Meir Kahane the promise of realizing ideas like the forced expulsion of Palestinians and leftists.

By Joshua Leifer | Jewish Currents | Sept 23, 2022

He represents in his person the possibility of reconciling Zionism’s ego and id, of fully unleashing the violent ethnonationalism that the rule of law both channels and represses.

Early last week, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the 46-year-old lawyer and leader of Israel’s extreme-right Jewish Power party, released a short campaign video on social media. “This is a clip you must watch to the end,” he tweeted. The video shows a succession of short quotes attributed to “B.G.,” set against grainy black-and-white footage from the early days of Zionist settlement in British Mandate Palestine. “The Bible is the soul of the Jewish People, from its beginning and for all the generations,” reads one quote. “One does not receive a land, one conquers it,” reads another. “If you put all the values in the world on one hand, and the existence of Israel on the other, I would choose Israel’s existence,” reads a third. At the end, Ben-Gvir himself appears in the frame, wearing a suit and tie, his usually conspicuous yarmulke now only barely visible on the back of his head. “I agree with every word, yet it wasn’t I who said these, but a different B.G.,” he smiles. Then, as a picture of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding leader, appears in the foreground alongside Ben-Gvir, he says, “Let’s get Israel back on track.”

It was, like much of Ben-Gvir’s rhetoric, partially an act of trolling. For the followers of Meir Kahane—the American-born rabbi who became the leader of an armed, far-right theocratic and racist movement in Israel—Ben-Gurion, a secularist and socialist, has long represented not a hero worth emulating, but an ideological foe. Yet Ben-Gvir’s video was also a challenge to the Israeli center and center-left, which has sought to label him as beyond the pale of acceptability. By comparing himself to Ben Gurion, Ben-Gvir asserted that he and his party are not a deviation from Zionism’s founding spirit but its authentic continuation. Indeed, with little more than a month before Israel’s next elections, Ben-Gvir is no longer campaigning as the leader of the Kahanist fringe; he is making a bid to represent the mainstream. The Religious Zionism list, of which Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power is a major component, is currently polling between 11 and 14 seats, competing to be the Knesset’s third largest party. If Netanyahu’s Likud wins enough seats to form the next coalition, Ben-Gvir could very likely hold a cabinet position in government. He has said he would like to be Minister of Public Security, the office that oversees the police.

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