Geopolitics

U.S. slams Israeli ultranationalist lawmaker’s remarks at Kahane memorial

tamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Israeli far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane
Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks during a memorial ceremony for late controversial Rabbi Meir Kahane. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance via Getty Images

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said it was “abhorrent” that Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a Jewish supremacist party who is set to become a minister in the next government, praised the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was known for his racist and extreme rhetoric, at a memorial service in Israel on Thursday.

Why it matters: Such strongly worded criticism by a State Department official is unusual when it comes to issues related to Israel. Ben-Gvir, whose party is part of Benjamin Netanyahu‘s right-wing bloc that recently won the Israeli elections, is expected to be appointed the new minister of internal security.

  • The internal security post would put Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism, in charge of the Israeli police and policies around Jerusalem’s holy sites, including Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam.
  • Ben-Gvir has said he wants to establish a new ministry for encouraging the emigration of “enemies” and people who are “disloyal” to the state. He also says he will try to pass laws for implementing the death sentence against those he calls “terrorists.”

Catch up quick: Ben-Gvir was a follower and a student of Kahane, who formed the Kach party, which until last May was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

  • Its offshoot, Kahane Chai, remains designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) organization.

At the memorial service Thursday, Ben-Gvir praised Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, but said that today he doesn’t endorse all of his positions.

  • He mentioned that, unlike Kahane, he doesn’t think that all Arabs should be deported. Several of the people who attended the ceremony booed when Ben-Gvir made these remarks.

What they are saying: “Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent. We are concerned by the use of Kahane’s legacy and rhetoric by extremist and violent right-wing activists,” Price said at a State Department briefing Thursday.

Later Thursday, Miki Zohar, a Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, tweeted that the U.S. criticism is unwarranted.

  • “It is a shame that the U.S. didn’t check what happened at the memorial and what Ben-Gvir said. It is sad and unnecessary,” Zohar wrote.

Go deeper: The rise of Israel’s extreme right

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