‘Abhorrent’: State Department Slams Ben-Gvir Appearance at Kahane Memorial Event

‘Abhorrent’: State Department Slams Ben-Gvir Appearance at Kahane Memorial Event

Andrew Bernard

Itamar Ben-Gvir. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In another sign of tension between the US Administration and the newly-elected Israeli government, the State Department condemned far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is slated for a cabinet post, for his appearance at a memorial ceremony for Meir Kahane, the far right parliamentarian assassinated in 1990.

“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent; there is no other word for it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday. “We remain concerned, as we said before, by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of rhetoric among violent, right-wing extremists. We’ve condemned incitements, we’ve condemned violence and racism in all of if its forms,” Price said.

Kahane, who was assassinated in New York in 1990, founded the Jewish Defense League and the Israeli political party Kach and was convicted in the US of a conspiracy to manufacture explosives and in Israel of plotting to blow up the Libyan embassy in Belgium. Kach and its splinter organization Kahane Chai were banned in Israel after they expressed support for Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli supporter of Kahane who murdered 29 Palestinians in a West Bank mosque in 1994. Kach and Kahane Chai were jointly designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department from 1997 until earlier this year. They remain on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist organizations.

Writing on twitter before the event, Ben-Gvir said that he was participating despite his differences of opinion with Kahane because he appreciated “the love of Israel that [Kahane] had and his fight for the Jews of the Soviet Union and against antisemitism.” 

Ben-Gvir’s attempt to create ideological distance between himself and Kahane at the event on the question of expelling Arabs was met with boos from the crowd. Ben-Gvir said that unlike Kahane he does not believe that all Arabs need to be deported from Israel. He has previously said that only “disloyal” Arabs, including Arab members of the Knesset, need be deported

Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, an NGO which seeks to promote democratic values and equal rights in Israel, told The Algemeiner that the reaction from the crowd points to the potential instability Ben-Gvir’s newly-found electoral popularity.

“Extremism is much more fickle than it appears,” Kurtzer said. “My sense is that especially the young vote that was attracted to [Ben-Gvir’s party], that kind of anger, protest vote, at least publicly tended to talk a lot about crime in Israel, and the ways in which the police system was simply not responding to a sense of fear on the streets. […] It’s a very populist move to focus on crime and law and order. It may also just reflect particular trends of this election. You have no idea whether [Ben-Gvir] and Smotrich are able to stay together, able to stay in government. Next election they may be back down to the five or six seats where they were.”

The inclusion of Ben-Gvir and MK Bezalel Smotrich, both members of the Religious Zionism party, in a future Benjamin Netanyahu-led government has been a point of concern for the US. Ben-Gvir has said he will seek the Ministry of Public Safety responsible for the police, while Smotrich is seeking to be Minister of Defense.

Speaking to The Algemeiner last week, former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said that he thinks it’s unlikely that the Biden Administration will directly engage with either of them. “I highly doubt that the administration will work with Ben-Gvir, certainly, and likely Smotrich as well. They are advocates of racist and bigoted policies, they engage in anti-Arab incitement,” Shapiro said.

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