Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Itamar Ben-Gvir (center) with Baruch Marzel and Rav Dov Lior at an event last year.

On March 23, voters in Israel will once again head to the polls. And once again, Otzma Yehudit, headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, will attempt to enter the Knesset. Ben-Gvir is number three on a joint list comprising Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam. The list is expected to sit in the next Knesset. The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: Your political enemies seem to consider you more dangerous than the corona pandemic. A few days ago, it was reported that Yair Lapid went so far as to threaten one of the leaders of Chabad in Israel that the government would stop supporting the public menorah lightings for which Chabad is famous if it encourages its supporters to vote for you.

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Ben-Gvir: It doesn’t bother me that Yair Lapid doesn’t like me. In fact, the opposite is true. His disparagement tells me I am saying the correct things. We are running for the Knesset to represent the true voice of the Jewish people as opposed to the fake voices who pretend to carry the banners of justice and tolerance.

Even people like Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett, who purport to speak for the right, oppose you. What have you done in your life to merit such opposition?

They don’t like me because I speak the truth, not like the run-of-the-mill politician who says one thing on Monday and then the opposite thing the following week.

They also don’t like me because I actually fight for the concerns of the Jewish people rather than make fancy speeches. And they don’t like the fact that I hold Rav Meir Kahane in high esteem.

At the beginning of the week, you had a short shouting match on TV with Ahmad Tibi of the Joint Arab List – perhaps a preview of things to come in the Knesset. What did you say to him?

He began by derogatorily saying that I am a continuation of the Kach party and of Meir Kahane. I interrupted him and called him a terrorist. When I added that he vilified Israeli soldiers and hated Tzahal, I was cut off by the interviewer and dropped from the broadcast.

Are you, in fact, a continuation of Rabbi Kahane?

As the expression goes, Rav Kahane indeed was right about many things, including the dangerous influence of Arabs in the Knesset who support terrorism and who fight against Tzahal and Medinat Yisrael.

He was right about the danger that would threaten traditional Jewish values in Israel when democracy was deemed more important than the Torah in the management of a Jewish state. He was right about the potential excesses of a Supreme Court that placed itself above the legislative branch of the government.

My opponents are beside themselves with anger that I have managed to escape their attempts to delegitimize everybody and everything to do with Rav Kahane. I admire Rav Kahane. I respect his beliefs. I don’t share all of his opinions on every issue, but I respect that he had the courage to state them and fight for them on behalf of the Jewish people even if he had to sit in jail for upholding the truth.

In a concise fashion, please outline the platform of Otzma Yehudit.

First, we want to change Israel’s policy of security and defense. If Israel has to go to war, you don’t accomplish anything by blowing up empty buildings. You go to war to wipe out the enemy.

We also want to improve our internal security. Are Bedouin tribes in the Negev above the law that they can steal from Jewish farms and Tzahal warehouses whatever they please? Are Arabs above the law that they can destroy Jewish orchards and vineyards in Judea and Samaria and build wherever they please when the iron fist of law crashes down on every tent or shack that a Jewish teenager erects on the hillsides where our forefathers roamed?

Where is the logic in this? Where is the truth? How long must Jews be second-class citizens in our own Jewish homeland?

Another thing crying out for correction is the way the Supreme Court flaunts the elected legislators in the Knesset and has established a monarchy of its own, interpreting laws as it pleases, while ignoring the fact the medinah was established as a Jewish state and not as a mini America.

In addition, we have to strengthen and strengthen and strengthen the Jewish character of Medinat Yisrael, and we must work day and night against the forces who are striving to make Israel a secular state like any other. We want Jewish education to be the major focus of our schools and not impure and alien philosophies, G-d forbid.

The Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett also bills itself as a religious Zionist party and emphasizes the importance of defense and judicial reform. Why should Israelis vote for your party rather than Yamina?

When Naftali Bennett was Minister of Defense for a short period, he spoke very convincingly, but rockets continued to pour down on the south of Israel. Also, while I supported the efforts of his colleague, Ayelet Shaked – who was Minister of Justice for four years – to make changes in the judiciary, we see today that the power of the Supreme Court hasn’t weakened.

But the main difference between us is that a vote for Yamina could lead to a leftist government headed by Lapid. They admit that possibility themselves. Plus, Bennett has a lot of liberal ideas that are out of sync with the Torah, regarding the Reform movement, gay rights, his non-reliance of rabbis, and the like.

The only way we can insure the formation of a government on the right with a solid Torah leadership is via a big voter turnout for the Religious Zionism party.

Will you condition joining a coalition with Bibi on receiving a significant position in the government?

I am not becoming a member of the Knesset just to yell at Achmad Tibi. Yelling is also important, but I want to have some influence in the government – that has to be clear.

Right now, in an effort to draw votes from the center, Bibi has to protect himself and not seem to be a “radical extremist” like Itamar Ben-Gvir. So right now he says he won’t give me a ministerial appointment or allow me to head any important Knesset committee.

But let’s see what happens when he needs one more person to join his coalition in order to achieve a majority. He will begin to hum a different tune. If he thinks that I’m in his pocket, he is very mistaken. In the meantime, we have to convince voters that to keep the Jewish State Jewish, Otzma Yehudit and our election partners have to be a viable force in the Knesset.

With Purim just a few days away, what would you say is the most meaningful part of the holiday for you?

Two things – and I think Rav Meir Kahane exemplified both of them. First is Ahavat Am Yisrael, love for the Jewish people, which is manifested in us gathering together as one united nation against our enemies and is expressed through gifts to the poor and sending mishloach manot.…

I strive to emulate [a type] of active Ahavat Yisrael that doesn’t stop at the borders of political correctness for fear of disturbing the sensitivity of others. For instance, Rabbi Kahane fought against assimilation with great stridency. He wasn’t afraid to cause waves and rock the boat of establishment Judaism.…

Which brings us to the second aspect of Purim that I, and my colleagues at Otzma Yehudit, relate to the most: the importance of not bowing down to the enemies of the Jews or the social pressures of the time in order to win the love of the Gentile….

Mordechai didn’t bow down out of fear of Haman, and he didn’t bow down out of fear of what other Jews would say. This is a principle of Otzma Yehudit: Jewish pride. Jewish identity. Allegiance to Hashem and to Torah. That’s what comes first.

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.