The “hero” who murdered 29 Palestinians

Israeli state broadcaster Kan has just released this 1995 clip of Itamar Ben-Gvir, an extreme-right candidate in Israel’s upcoming elections who is backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ben-Gvir was dressed up for the Jewish holiday of Purim as Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler from Brooklyn who shot to death 29 Palestinian men and boys as they prayed during Ramadan.

The February 1994 massacre at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron caused shock and revulsion around the world and provoked the first-ever suicide bombing by a Palestinian 40 days later in the northern town of Afula, in revenge.

But for Ben-Gvir, the massacre was a fantastic event worthy of celebration. “He is my hero,” Ben-Gvir can be heard in the clip saying in Hebrew of Goldstein.

He also wears a sign that reads, “Blessed is the man who opens fire.”

Violent, unrestrained racism

This was no youthful folly. For a quarter century following the massacre, Ben-Gvir kept a photo of Goldstein hanging in his living room.

Nowadays Ben-Gvir is a lawyer who regularly defends settlers accused of violent attacks on Palestinians.

He’s also chair of Otzma Yehudit, a party inspired by Meir Kahane, the late founder of the violent extremist Jewish Defense League who advocated the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

In 2019, Ben-Gvir urged that any time a rocket is fired from Gaza, Israel should respond by killing 30 “terrorists” in revenge.

He also opposed Israel’s 2005 removal of its settlements from the Gaza Strip and has demanded that they be re-established.

And this month, Ben-Gvir launched a legal action seeking to have all Arab candidates disqualified from running in March’s elections for the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

This comes as Ben-Gvir demonizes Palestinian citizens of Israel as lovers of Hitler.

Backed by Netanyahu

As Netanyahu battles to maintain his grip on power in Israel’s fourth election in two years, he has entered into an electoral pact with a group of small right-wing parties that includes Otzma Yehudit.

As the Times of Israel describes it, the platform endorsed by these Netanyahu-backed parties includes “encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Arab Israelis who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state, whose sovereignty would extend throughout the West Bank.”

Ben-Gvir is demanding a plum political post in exchange for backing a new Netanyahu government.

The prime minister says that he will not give Ben-Gvir a cabinet position, but acknowledges that he would be “part of our coalition.”

Ben-Gvir’s lionizing of Baruch Goldstein is part of a well-established Israeli tradition of honoring war criminals and killers of Palestinians.

And this is not the first time Netanyahu has embraced Kahanists like Ben-Gvir. He did so in 2019, prompting a rare if indirect rebuke from AIPAC, Israel’s powerful US lobby group.

The right-wing Jerusalem Post declared Netanyahu’s renewed alliance with the Kahanists “unholy” and “bad for the country and particularly for our democracy.”

“This time around there were no condemnations from the US or other countries,” the newspaper added.

Protestations based on a lie

In fact, Democratic Majority for Israel, an anti-Palestinian lobby group within the ruling US Democratic Party has objected.

But its protestations are based on a lie.

“Otzma Yehudit’s racist beliefs are completely at odds with the values of the State of Israel and should have no place in Israeli institutions,” Democratic Majority for Israel stated earlier this month.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

Israel was founded on ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. It is maintained as a “Jewish state” through a brutally violent system of apartheid.

All of this is underpinned by odious laws designed to keep Palestinians, including those who are citizens of Israel, in an inferior position.

In a notable irony, Democratic Majority for Israel – which endorsed Joe Biden – recently wrote to members of Congress approvingly citing Israeli settler group Regavim.

That group was co-founded by Bezalel Smotrich, another Netanyahu-allied far-right extremist who is running on a joint slate with Ben-Gvir.

This only confirms that DMFI’s objections to Netanyahu’s endorsement of the Kahanists is not based on any genuine concern about racism. Rather, the lobby group seems to be miffed that the alliance makes its job of whitewashing Israel’s apartheid system more difficult.

Indeed, the only thing Netanyahu’s alliance with Itamar Ben-Gvir does is bring Israel’s racism into even fuller view. For that reason it should be welcomed.

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Goldstein, Kahane. Wonderful heroes he has. Psychopaths. It isn't Palestinians in Israel who are apologists for Hitler, it is people like Ben Gvir who replicate the racism, irrational hatred, violence and fear of democracy of the Nazis. This base, animalistic, intellectually vacuous and morally bereft view of the world in which people are subsumed to a category, dehumanised, brutalised so the pathetic, failing egos of the supposed chosen people can stay in precarious balance on the pinnacle of their ignorance and viciousness, can't hold. The simple truth is too powerful: no one is good enough to have power over anyone else. That is the truth which will sweep away this vile contagion.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.