Israel’s extremist government

April 16, 2023

Some Israeli ministers seem to be pushing the Palestinians to start a third intifada.

Israel’s extremist government


n an editorial published on November 2, 2022, Haaretz, an English-language daily in Israel, wrote that “Kahanism won” and that Israel was now on the brink of a “right-wing, religious, authoritarianism revolution.” Based on the results of initial polls, the editorial warned that “it is already clear that the big winner in the country’s 25th Knesset elections is the chairman of Otzma Yehudit, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and that the big loser is Israel.”

Haaretz‘s prediction proved accurate. Within three days of taking office, the coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a set of reforms commonly referred to as the “judicial overhaul” to undermine the Supreme Court. Members of the coalition, from Netanyahu to Smotrich, have found a common enemy in the Supreme Court. The leaders of the far-right religious parties despise the Supreme Court for ruling against the construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu wants to bring the Supreme Court to its knees because he has been accused of corruption, fraud and breach of trust.

Given that Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist party and current finance minister of Israel, spent three weeks in jail in 2005 for erecting obstacles to prevent Israeli settlers from leaving the occupied West Bank, the contempt of religious extremists for the Supreme Court is understandable. Itamar Ben-Gvir, a member of the coalition who serves as the minister of national security while also being in charge of the border police in the West Bank and head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit/ Jewish Power party, was convicted of racism, aiding terrorism and inciting violence in 2007.

The far-right government has caused unrest both internally and externally. Since January 7, liberal citizens in Israel have taken to the streets every Saturday to protest against the government’s plans for a judicial coup. Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and the Palestinians on the border have flared up to a level described by analysts as “the most intense since 2006.”

For instance, after Israeli police beat up Palestinians at Al Aqsa Mosque on April 6, which stirred up retaliatory attacks from Palestinians, Netanyahu immediately convened a meeting of his far-right ministers who support a “full annexation” of the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, his extremist ministers, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, complained that the government was not doing enough to protect the citizens and Netanyahu urged military reservists to remain on high alert.

The West Bank, home to around 700,000 settlers and 2.7 million Palestinians, was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Despite clear violations of international law, the displacement of Palestinians and the establishment of new settlements by hardline Jewish settlers under the protection of Israeli security forces continue. The current government was voted in with a promise to expand and legalise settlements in the occupied West Bank - even to annex it.

A week later, on April 11, both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, accompanied by at least 20 Knesset members, led a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, including women and children, to a vacant area to start a new settlement in an area called Evyatar. This action violated Israeli law and took place in an illegal settlement outpost in the northern part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The outpost was evacuated by the previous Israeli government in 2021.

Ben-Gvir reassured the settlers that the settlement would soon be legalised. The next day, due to the fear of escalating tensions, Netanyahu, on the advice of his security top brass, banned the entry of non-Muslims to the Al Aqsa Mosque for the remaining ten days of Ramazan. Ben-Gvir criticised his coalition government’s decision, expressing his support for the use of force by saying, “When terrorism strikes us, we must strike back with great force, not surrender to its whims.”

Ben-Gvir has always been an agitator, but his entry into Al Aqsa mosque for the first time as a senior minister three months ago on January 3, angered the Muslim community worldwide. His move drew warnings from Hamas, which said the extremist minister was crossing a “red line.“ The Lebanon-based Hezbollah cautioned that changing the status quo at Al Aqsa could lead to an explosion of violence not only in Palestine but in the entire region.

The leader of the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, has also criticised the minister’s action, warning that “it might result in bloodshed.” A similar action by the then-opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, had led to the eruption of the second intifada, or uprising, in 2000 that lasted until 2005. Considering the racist mentality, criminal records and provocative actions of the far-right ministers in the current government, there are concerns that they are trying to push the Palestinians towards a third intifada.

Despite the looming threat of a major conflict, massive demonstrations against the extremist government continue in Israel. The protesters are deeply concerned about the dystopian visions of the current theocratic band in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

In a recent protest, a senior protester wearing a shirt with the slogan “Crime Minister,” referring to Netanyahu, told a reporter that the current government was similar to the “Jewish Taliban.” A former Kahanist extremist (explained below) described the current administration as “theological fascism.“ Others have compared it to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the US.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a person whom the Haaretz editorial has cautioned about, is now the National Security Minister, controlling the Israeli police and the settlements in the West Bank. Described by former prime minister Ehud Olmert as “a more imminent danger to Israel than a nuclear-armed Iran,” Ben-Gvir, who resides in an illegal settlement, has never concealed his hatred for Arabs and Palestinians. He shares the views of his mentor Kahane that Israeli citizens who are “not patriotic enough” should be expelled.

During an attempt by the settlers to evict Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in October last year, he pulled out his pistol and told the settlers to shoot the stone throwers. In 2007, Ben-Gvir was found guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation, the Meir Kahane-founded Kach party, which was outlawed following the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, where Kahanist military doctor Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshippers and injured more than a hundred others. Ben-Gvir describes Meir Kahane as a saint and Goldstein as a hero. He kept a photo of Goldstein in his living room until 2020 when he put it down on the advice of his friends and allies to forestall criticism.

Ben-Gvir was exempted from mandatory military service due to his extreme ideology. When questioned about why they had rejected him, the army chief responded, “Should I give a gun to someone like him?”

Ben-Gvir was once prohibited from owning a firearm due to his extreme ideology, but to the surprise of both Palestinians and liberal Israelis, he is now allowed to head the Ministry of National Security. He requested the formation of a separate National Guard, which critics have dubbed a private militia. He claimed that the police were “not tough enough” on the Palestinians and needed the separate force. On April 3, his wish was granted; the Israeli cabinet approved the setting up of a National Guard comprising around 2,000 personnel that will operate under Ben-Gvir’s exclusive authority.

A sane mind is compelled to ask: if a man is not fit to serve in the security service because of his extreme ideology, how is he fit to lead another?

The writer is a postgraduate student studying international relations. He can be reached at

Israel’s extremist government