September 26, 2023

Benjamin Netanyahu avoided joint pictures with Itamar Ben-Gvir throughout the entire election campaign so as not to drive away centrist voters.

Incoming-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Monday with Otzma Yehudit faction leader Itamar Ben-Gvir for a first round of coalition negotiations and released, for the first time, a photograph of them together.

Ben-Gvir in the meeting repeated his demand from before the election to be appointed public security minister, with enlarged authority. He also demanded either the Education or Transportation ministries for No. 2 on the Otzma Yehudit list, Yitzhak Wasserlauf, and made it clear that without written agreements regarding reforms in the judicial system and issues related to governance, “there is nothing to enter the government for.”

The meeting lasted an hour and 20 minutes. Netanyahu held similar talks on Sunday with Degel Hatorah faction leader Moshe Gafni, Agudat Yisrael faction leader Yitzhak Goldknopf, Shas leader Arye Deri and Religious Zionist Party (RZP) leader Bezalel Smotrich. Netanyahu is also expected to meet with MK Avi Maoz, No. 11 on the RZP list and head of the Noam faction.

“The meeting was held in a good atmosphere,” Ben-Gvir said upon exiting. “We are on our way to establishing a full right-wing government to protect IDF soldiers, to look into the eyes of all the people, some of whom are afraid to walk around in the Negev and the Galilee, and restore their security and sovereignty. We have a lot of work.”

Unlike photographs with the other faction leaders that portrayed them sitting at ease with Netanyahu on couches, the photograph of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir showed Netanyahu behind his desk and Ben-Gvir and his advisers facing him on chairs. Netanyahu is known for personally deciding about the composition of the pictures of him that will be released to the media.

Left: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. Right: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu refrained from being photographed with Ben-Gvir throughout the campaign so as not to give the impression that the two were allies, as this could have driven away centrist voters who oppose Ben-Gvir’s policies.

The issue came to head at an event following Sukkot in October, at which Ben-Gvir was physically escorted off of the stage since Netanyahu was ready to ascend and did not want the two to appear together.

Ben-Gvir faces criticism from Likud MK for calling on Israel’s Left to cooperate

Earlier on Monday, Ben-Gvir was criticized by incoming Likud MK Tali Gottlieb after writing an op-ed in Israel Hayom calling for the Left to cooperate and not fear him.

In the op-ed, titled “My Brothers on the Left,” Ben-Gvir wrote that fears he will curtail human rights or block gay parades were baseless, adding that he has “grown up, become more moderate and understood that life is more complicated.”

Ben-Gvir refused to apologize for his policies and said he would fight enemies “from without and within.” There was room for “a reacquaintance [and] refreshing of memory” with Jewish tradition, he said.

Ben-Gvir vowed to act on behalf of the Arab-Israeli population to fight rampant crime.

“If you let us get closer, if you listen to the content of our words, you will find that we are brothers,” he said. “You will find that we agree on 90% of issues, that the vision we bring and the actions we promote are for you as much as they are for us.”

Ben-Gvir’s article followed somewhat conciliatory speeches by Netanyahu and Smotrich during the Knesset’s memorial service for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Sunday.

Gottlieb took issue with this.

“My fellow politicians from the Right, stop slouching and apologizing to the Left, who until yesterday spat on all of us and dismissed us all,” she wrote. “You want to govern? Didn’t you learn? Only with pride and power! Not with letters to the nation nor interviews sucking up to the Left. It’s really embarrassing.”

Otzma Yehudit No. 3 and No. 7 on the RZP list Almog Cohen, responded on Twitter: “Let’s see you ‘not slouching’ when Ben-Gvir puts forward legislation for the death penalty for terrorists, immunity for soldiers and policemen, and a change in the rules of engagement – Gottlieb, this is where you will be tested who is right-wing and who isn’t.”

On Monday evening, outgoing-Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said at an Israel Police award ceremony: “Anyone who claims that there is no full backing for the Israel Police, and that it is necessary to change the rules of engagement, is deceiving the Israeli public, is wrong and is misleading. We have a brave police force, whose officers in life-threatening situations do not hesitate to open fire at terrorists or criminals.”

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