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Sorry, Mohammed, there’s a new sheriff in town

Ben Gvir, what part of this message is unclear? photo: Nili Bresler

The absurdity of appointing a fanatic racist as Minister of National Security

Itamar Ben Gvir is the absolute worst candidate I can imagine for a government minister. certainly for the Minister of National Security. Ben Gvir is a steadfast supporter of the infamous Jewish terrorist, Meir Kahane. Decades ago, Ben Gvir was seen on TV threatening the life of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, just weeks before Rabin’s assassination. Ben Gvir has also sung the praises of mass murderer Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 worshippers and wounded more than 125 when he opened fire in a mosque in Hebron in 1994. When asked in an interview about the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, Ben Gvir replied that the ten commandments protect only Jews. Ben Gvir was convicted and jailed in 2007 for inciting racism and violence. He was not drafted into the Israeli army because he was considered a threat. Indeed, he is far more of a threat today as a government minister in charge of the national police.

“Sorry Mohammad” – Legitimizing Institutional Racism

In an interview last night on a major TV channel, Itamar Ben Gvir unashamedly stated that the rights of Jews are more important than the rights of Arabs.  “Sorry Mohammad,” Ben Gvir said to reporter Mohammad Magadli, “but that’s the reality. That’s the truth. My right to life comes before their [Arabs’] right to movement.”

With rampant crime in the Arab sector of Israel and a dramatic increase in terrorist incidents, it is clear that the National Security Minister, who is charged with maintaining internal security and running the Israel police, has failed in the most important mandate of his role. The man is clearly incompetent. We the citizens are neither safe nor secure.

When asked in another interview about the horrendous wave of violent crime in the Arab sector, Ben Gvir said, “It’s not just the over 150 people killed, may their memory be a blessing, we have a bigger threat. Crime in the Arab sector could very well spill over into the Jewish sector. They have [all kinds of] weapons that could be directed at us upon command.”.

This is a predictable move on the part of a cynical politician: pandering to his ultra-nationalist paranoid constituency. Ben Gvir falls back on the threat of terrorism, rather than admitting that he is unable or unwilling to deal with a crime wave which is alarming to everyone, except it seems, the head of the country’s national police. While Ben Gvir is busy instructing his police force to crack down on pro-democracy demonstrators, he blithely ignores the Arab sector of the country, where violent crimes have been rising at an unprecedented rate. This is a sector already challenged by poor infrastructure, lack of services, and poverty.

When Ben Gvir was appointed minister in January, along with sidekick Bezalel Smotrich, I immediately said to anyone and everyone who would listen: Here comes the Jewish Taliban. It did not occur to me how soon this prophecy might come to be.  How quickly the balance of power between extremist factions can tear at the fabric of our fragile and fraught society. Just as then-President Donald Trump gave legitimacy to white supremacists; the ultra-nationalist, Jewish terrorists, Ben Gvir and Smotrich, are giving legitimacy to ultra-orthodox fundamentalist extremists.

In recent weeks Israel has been rife with tension between the secular and ultra-orthodox communities. The much-touted light rail which runs through Tel Aviv opened amid raucous protest demonstrations. This because it was announced that the rail will be idle for most of our weekend. The train will stop running hours before the Sabbath on Fridays, resuming operation for only 45 minutes when the Sabbath ends on Saturday night. After the huge investment of time, taxpayers’ money, pain, and inconvenience we citizens endured for the 20 long years of the project, the least we could expect is to be able to get around on our weekends. The government claims this is not an economic decision but one made in order to maintain the “status quo”. What status quo? That’s long gone.

There is growing animosity and there have been many hostile incidents between secular and ultra-Orthodox citizens. About a week ago, a zealous ultra-Orthodox bus driver sent four teenage girls to the back of a public bus, yelling at them to cover themselves with blankets for the sake of modesty. This is just one of many such incidents that we have seen in recent weeks. Our inept Prime Minister has said, “Israel is a free country…Whoever does this is breaking the law.” But he has taken absolutely no steps to punish the lawbreakers. It defies comprehension that this Prime Minister continues to back the racist fanatic Ben Gvir as his National Security Minister.

Fascism shall not pass. Broken arm, but no broken spirit.  photo: Nili Bresler

Three weeks ago, I myself was unwittingly drawn into an incident between secular and ultra-Orthodox riders on a public bus. My bus line starts in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak. On this day, the bus was almost full by the time it reached my neighborhood. The Orthodox riders blocked the front of the bus and refused to move in to make room for us, the secular passengers who had just boarded. Two of us, senior citizens, tried to remind the other riders that we are entitled to sit in the front row of seats. The ultra-Orthodox riders refused to get up for us. Nor would they fold their baby strollers, which were blocking the aisle of the bus. A shouting match ensued. The bus driver did not attempt to intervene to help keep order. Within minutes the bus driver lost his temper. He stopped short in the middle of the road and flung open the bus doors. At that point, I tumbled out onto the pavement along with another rider, breaking my arm.  In fact, the fall broke both my radius and ulna bones. Of course, it could have been worse. I could have fallen on my head, heaven forbid. As it was, I have only my broken arm as testament to the friction on the streets of our cities these days.

In the late 1980s, I led a group fighting religious coercion as part of my role in Ratz, the citizens’ rights party. I did not dream then that decades later we would still be fighting the same fight. I certainly never dreamt in my wildest nightmares that a convicted Jewish terrorist would be put at the helm of our country’s national security. It is no wonder that the fabric of our society is unraveling before our eyes. There are intolerant and dangerously- incompetent men minding the store.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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