On Monday night, after learning about the antisemitic attacks on Tel Aviv Jews who were praying in public groups, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir declared: “On this Yom Kippur we saw haters trying to expel Judaism from the public sphere. Israel is a Jewish state! And democratic. This coming Thursday I will hold an evening prayer in the Circle, the public is invited!”
By “Circle,” he meant, of course, Dizengoff Circle, the focal point of antisemitic attacks over the sacred day.
And since that announcement, Ben Gvir has been criticized not only by his usual detractors but also by his closest allies within the national religious camp.
Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman tweeted: “Itamar, your intentions are good but your actions are not. There is no doubt that the action of a small and violent minority that attacked worshipers on Yom Kippur is heartbreaking to all of us, but the response to the provocation by the extreme and noisy progressive minority that does not want a Jewish and democratic state here should not be a counter-provocation that would lead to expanding the fire and the hatred which would unite a wide public around those extremists.”
Rothman added: “Darkness is not chased away with sticks, but by adding light. The consistent action of many – traditional, religious, and secular – who strengthened their Judaism in response to violence and extreme progressive silencing, is the real response.”
“Israel will be Jewish and democratic, because that is what the absolute majority of the public wants and demands,” Rothman concluded.
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein tweeted: “On one side is Ben Gvir, on the other side Ehud Barak and his emissaries. In the middle, there is an entire nation that’s simply fed up with extremism.”
Right-wing pundit Erel Segal warned Ben Gvir that his in-your-face prayer service would blow fresh oxygen into the otherwise depleted protest movement.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai on Tuesday called on Tel Aviv District Police Chief Peretz Amar to prevent gender segregation in the public space at Ben Gvir’s prayer on Thursday.
Question: this reporter has participated in many a week-night Ma’ariv service and does not recall ever seeing a woman participating. Ben Gvir will have to go out of his way, first to schlep in mechitzas, and then, which would be even harder, to schlep in women.
Meanwhile, the progressives have already booked Dizengoff Circle for Thursday evening for their own “prayer service,” which may mean that the Tel Aviv police would be ordered to prevent Ben Gvir et al from even entering the circle. Ben Gvir’s response was predictably combative. He posted a video where he says, “Let’s see you trying to get rid of us,” and called on “everyone” to come pray with him: “I call on secular and religious, traditional, Ashkenazi and Sephardic people, come, the prayer belongs to everyone, this is the Jewish state.”
אני אומר לאותם אנרכיסטים שניסו לסלק את המתפללים ביום כיפור – אני וחברי עוצמה יהודית, מגיעים ביום חמישי הקרוב לאותו מקום, כדי להתפלל תפילת ערבית, נראה אתכם מנסים לסלק אותנו. אני קורא לכולם, חילונים ודתיים, מסורתיים, אשכנזים וספרדים, תבואו, התפילה היא של כולם, זאת מדינת היהודים! pic.twitter.com/8eVqMN1dbO
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) September 26, 2023
Tovia Smotrich, brother of the finance minister who shared a Knesset campaign with Ben Gvir last November, attacked the chairman of Otzma Yehudit: “Again and again, Ben Gvir is the rejected child of the class who one day returned to the neighborhood as a bully. A populist with zero national responsibility who is interested in nothing but self-glorification. His rise to the forefront is perhaps the most disastrous result for Israeli society of the boycott against Bibi and the disruption it has created in Israel’s democracy.”
Is anyone hearing the echoes of elections future?
Smotrich’s RFK continued bluntly: “We are disgusted by the secular left that is unable to shake off the extremists and instead of going against them, lets them pull it into the abyss. In order not to be like that, let’s be clear: Ben Gvir, your plan for a mass prayer on Thursday evening in a square in Tel Aviv is stupid, harmful, and a source of strife. It’s a descent to the level of the Yom Kippur desecrators. I pray people won’t show up.”