A recent study by the nationalist organization Mattot Arim ranked Dr. Michael Ben Ari of National Union number two in terms of Knesset members “most loyal to the right-wing’s agenda in the Knesset term that just ended.” (The Likud’s Danny Danon finished first.)
Shortly after being elected to the Knesset earlier this year, Ben Ari made headlines by marching through Umm al-Fahm in the face of rioting Israeli Arabs. Responding to White House demands that Israel halt “construction in occupied areas,” he announced the opening of his office near the Shuafat Refugee Camp and was arrested in the Shomron, despite MK immunity, after intervening on behalf of protesting youths being manhandled by Israeli Border Police.
A proponent of settling all of Eretz Yisrael and a student and follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – he’s been described as the first outspoken disciple of Kahane to be elected to the Knesset – Ben Ari, 45, studied at Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav and was formerly an educator with a M.A. in Talmud and a Ph.D. in Land of Israel Studies and Archeology from Bar Ilan University.
Ben Ari recently sat down with The Jewish Press to discuss Israeli politics, his relationship with Meir Kahane, the pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction and the threat of a nuclear Iran..
The Jewish Press: To what do you attribute your strong alignment with the national camp in Israeli politics?
Ben Ari: My search to define my national identity really began in my childhood. During the Yom Kippur War, when I was ten years old, I was completely shaken up. Until that point most Israelis relied on the government’s understanding and handling of situations. All of a sudden people began to wake up and realize that the government didn’t seem to know what was going on. As a child this made an enormous impression on me. After the war, most people went back to their normal routine. But for me everything was in doubt. Instead of being preoccupied with sports, I read every newspaper I could lay my hands on and became totally immersed in nationalism and thoughts of national identity.
How did you become attracted to the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane?
I was sixteen when I first met Rabbi Kahane and remember being attracted to his ideas because of his humanistic approach to the Israeli Arab problem. His solution of separation – not to expel the Jews, but rather to have the Arabs live in their own 22 states – would prevent murder, because ultimately either they will kill us or we will kill them. Kahane predicted that if we don’t choose his solution to separate from the Arabs, we will end up choosing Arafat’s solution. Even in this he was a prophet. Three or four years after Kahane was assassinated, Arafat won the Nobel peace prize and Jews were murdered.
What also impressed me was how Rabbi Kahane did not think of himself as a private individual. He felt connected to all Jews, regardless of who or where they were. People [in Israel] tend to say about Jonathan Pollard, “Oh, he was born there, he is American and I don’t have to worry about him.” This is terrible. One of the lessons of the Holocaust, which Rabbi Kahane preached, is Jewish unity. When we see another Jew’s pain we have to think of him as part of the family.
Arab MKs walked out during your first speech in the Knesset, and you responded that this was your “first great achievement.” As a follower of Rabbi Kahane, do you feel alienated in the Knesset?
When I came to the Knesset, some of the veteran members remembered how they succeeded in excommunicating Rabbi Kahane, and they thought they could do the same to me. Yes, there are those who don’t talk to me. But the majority of them, even some from Meretz, have a good relationship with me. One of the main reasons that it’s hard for them to attack me, as opposed to Kahane, is that I am Israeli and I was born here.
How do you view Netanyahu’s recent endorsement of the two-state solution?
Netanyahu proved he lacks the ability to lead. His capitulation on the matter of establishing a Palestinian state illustrates that we are dealing with a dangerous leader who yields to pressure. We saw this in the past when he handed over Chevron.
Do you think the current rumblings within the Likud opposing Netanyahu’s endorsement of the two-state solution may influence his decision making?
Likud members will not bring him down. Unfortunately, the majority of them hold leadership positions, and they don’t have the time or the inclination to oppose their leaders. Some are his main defenders. This illustrates two different types of rightists. One is like dough and can be molded into anything. The second type are kitzoni, so-called extremists. They are uncompromising and will not budge, despite what’s done to them.
I belong to the second type. We [National Union] entered the Netanyahu coalition without any monetary or budgetary demands. We only had three conditions: no discussion on giving up any part of Jerusalem, no discussion on the settlements, and continued settlement development. There is no security today because for the past ten years we have only been moving backward. The Right is constantly finding itself retreating from its positions and then having to defend itself. Am Yisrael has to move forward. We should be going back to Chomesh and continue building. There should be no retreat, no seeking acceptance, and no two-state solution.
As a resident of the Shomron in the so-called occupied territories, how does a settlement freeze, even a temporary one, affect your life and impact on other parts of Israel?
The restriction of settlement development, and there already has been a settlement freeze for the past seven years, has translated into a silent expulsion of the Jews of Yehudah and Shomron. Our children who get married here have nowhere to live and are in essence expelled. They can’t even rent one room, and they end up having to move out. Without this expulsion we wouldn’t be 350,000 Jews living in the settlements but 700,000.
There is great demand to find places to live in all of the Shomron. The haredim are in dire straits. They are priced out in Bnei Brak and have nowhere to move. But settling the hilltops is even more than that – it represents our rightful inheritance to all of Eretz Yisrael and not just where others dictate to us where to live. This freeze is a method of strangling the settlements, and capitulation on this fundamental matter shows weakness and concurrence with the demands of Israel’s enemies.
As an educator, and in light of the post-Zionist indoctrination of today’s Israeli youth, what would you do to implement change?
Rav Kahane said that in Israel we built the biggest Jewish youth movement for nothing. Today’s youth does not stand for post-Zionism. They stand for nothing, with no past and no future. This is very painful. The night of the election, when I heard that Kadima got 28 mandates, I cried. Kadima is a party that stands for nothing. How is it possible that every fourth person in this country voted for nothing? One of the main problems today is the lack of family structure. The divorce rate is increasing rapidly, and the secular public doesn’t believe in the sanctity of marriage anymore. I am working now on a program to be introduced into the Knesset for the betterment of family values, which is not a simple thing today.
What are your views regarding the Iranian threat?
I am not as scared of the Iranian threat as much as from the threat against uprooting Yitz-har. Yes, Ahmadinijad is crazy, and the possibility of him doing something rash and dangerous exists. It’s a problem that will get worse if we don’t address it. But we have the capability to solve this problem. Furthermore, the Iranian threat is not just against us but against the whole world. If they bomb us it will affect the whole Middle East, the Europeans and the entire region around us. And Ahmadinijad is not the supreme power. Iran is run by a government that will not want to suffer consequences.
I see it as convenient for Obama and the Europeans that Iran is threatening us. But I think the Iranian problem is blown out of proportion. I am more scared about the consequences of giving away Yitzhar. To me this is a much bigger, more realistic threat. The Iranian threat is more of a paper sword, whereas giving up the settlements is a real sword hanging over our heads.
Why then aren’t there mass protests in Israel against the current pressure from the Obama administration?
People don’t feel any imminent threat. There are places in Israel where people protest if the price of bread goes up ten agurot but they will not protest when it comes to national pride. In some countries citizens have such a strong sense of national pride that they burn tires and riot in the streets if their country’s soccer team loses. The question is, if Medinat Yisrael has to go to war, is the country going to be behind it? Does the public value Yitzhar enough to fight for it?
There is a boiling point for every nation, and the Israeli public hasn’t reached it yet. We have to be able to fight for the proper Jewish values and morals, and we cannot lose recognition of our purpose and destiny as a Jewish nation.