‘I’ve grown up,’ far-rightist tells Israelis worried about his rise

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A far-rightist lined up for a senior post in the next Israeli government sought on Monday to reassure the country’s minorities that he would safeguard them, but he made no mention of Palestinians who feel especially threatened by his rise.

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Having won an election last week, conservative former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most powerful likely coalition ally is Religious Zionism, a party led by ultranationalist Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

One of them, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has received intense scrutiny in Israel and abroad due to past actions including membership in the outlawed militant group Kach, a criminal conviction for anti-Arab incitement, and the heckling of Gay Pride parades.

“I’ve grown up, I’ve moderated and I’ve come to understand that life is more complicated,” Ben-Gvir, 46, said in a front-page article in the biggest-circulation Israel Hayom newspaper.

The overture came a day after the Religious Zionism co-head drew center-left ire by suggesting the state had a hand in the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish zealot bent on stopping territorial handovers to Palestinians.

Rightists were correct to protest Rabin’s policies, Bezalel Smotrich said at a memorial ceremony in parliament. He said security services had “used irresponsible manipulation, which to this day has not been fully exposed, to encourage the murderer.”

He appeared to be alluding to the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency’s running of an agent provocateur among far-rightists in the run-up to the assassination - a matter addressed by a state commission of inquiry and court trials.

In his article, titled “A Letter to My Brethren on the Left,” Ben-Gvir said nothing about US-sponsored Israeli talks on Palestinian statehood, which stalled in 1994 and which the Biden administration said on Saturday that it wants to revive.

Religious Zionism, like other Israeli parties on the right, opposes Palestinian statehood. Ben-Gvir has further called for dismantling the interim Palestinian Authority which governs in parts of the West Bank, a move that would effectively return Palestinians to open-ended Israeli rule without national rights.

Focusing on internal issues, Ben-Gvir, who wants to become police minister, wrote that he would tackle crime racking Israel’s Arabs - a minority whose expulsion he once advocated.

Asserting that he and liberals “agree on 90 percent of issues,” he said he would not seek to impose religious law nor curb freedom of dissent, “and even if I’m not keen on the (Gay Pride) parade, I will ensure utmost protection for the men and women marching.”

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