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Diaspora community leaders speak out against Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionists

Deborah Stone
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Published: 1 November 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

DEBORAH STONE: Australian Zionists cannot support the inclusion of Ben-Gvir’s party in a future government, says Zionist Federation of Australia president JEREMY LEIBLER.

For many years the Australian Jewish community has supported Israel’s government whatever its colour.

But Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) president Jeremy Leibler made it clear at the ZFA conference on Sunday that there is a limit. The probable inclusion of the Otzma Yehudit (Religious Zionist) party in a Netanyahu-led coalition is unacceptable to Australian Jews.

Diaspora communities around the world are worried about the rise of the far Right in Israel. The Australian Jewish News, which has supported the Right in Israeli politics for many years, says Israel's future is at stake. The Jewish Chronicle in the UK called for "outrage" and a broad range of Jewish organisations have described Israel's far Right as "disturbing" and reprehensible. Even the Anti-Defamation League, known for its unqualified support for Jews and Israel, said the mainstreaming of extremist ideologies through inclusion in the Israeli government would be "corrosive to Israel's founding principles".

Leibler used his presidential speech at the ZFA conference to speak out against Otzma Yehudit politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, a known admirer of racist Meir Kahane and in favour of the current coalition’s inclusion of Arab party Ra’am.

“In 1984, Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset. Whenever Kahane would stand to address the Knesset, then Likud prime minister Yitzchak Shamir would lead his entire faction in a walkout. Kahane served just one term before later being convicted of acts of terrorism and his party Kach was eventually banned for inciting racism. Yet today his ideological heir, Itamar Ben Gvir, and his misleadingly named “religious Zionism” party are polling strongly,” he said.

"If Zionism aspires to position the Jewish people as a light unto the nations, as a torchbearer of morality based on Jewish values, Ben-Gvir’s approach is inherently anti-Zionist."

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler

Leibler said last year’s Lod riots had been important in setting off Ben-Gvir’s rise to influence. The riots, which occurred in the wake of an outbreak of violence in Gaza, happened when groups of young Arabs burned synagogues and attempted to lynch Jews and Jewish mobs responded by trying to lynch Arab fellow citizens.

“Ben-Gvir played a central role in whipping up the violent Jewish response. No surprise from a man who, until recently, had a picture hanging on his living room wall of Baruch Goldstein, a Jew who murdered 29 people as they prayed in a mosque.

“Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that history could have looked back on the last Israeli government as the beginning of an era of healing between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. It was the first time an Arab party joined the government. Mansour Abbas was the first mainstream Arab Israeli leader to state publicly and unequivocally that he and his party accepted Israel as a Jewish state.

“In contrast, Ben-Gvir not only channels Kahane’s racism but also his isolationism that pits Israel and the Jewish people against the rest of the world. He is a politician who cultivates and celebrates division.”

Leibler said Ben-Gvir’s values were far from those of Zionism.

“If Zionism aspires to position the Jewish people as a light unto the nations, as a torchbearer of morality based on Jewish values, Ben Gvir’s approach is inherently anti-Zionist. An ideology of hatred - of pitting one group against another - is entirely inconsistent with building a state and a community that’s capable of dreaming as Herzl did.”

In a clear reference to the Australian Jewish Association, Leibler also criticised members of the Jewish community who “speak the language of Ben-Gvir”, attempt to align the Jewish community’s agenda with that of One Nation, and accuse Jews they disagree with of being ‘kapos’.

“Likewise, on the extreme Left of politics in in our community, there are those who seem capable of only seeing Israel’s faults but appear incapable of ever seeing its virtues or the faults of our enemies. Who are prepared to justify antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism simply because it emanates from their own side of politics, and who draw moral equivalency between Israel defending itself and those seeking to destroy it.

“At either extreme, these elements are incapable of aspiring to or fulfilling the Zionist dream because they are too busy focusing on division and disagreement, not only with so called 'enemies' of the Jewish community but perceived enemies within.

“It is absolutely critical that, as a community, we follow Rambam’s golden middle path. Just as we invest enormous effort to ensure that the battle against antisemitism is not the domain of the Left or the Right, we must apply the same standards among ourselves.”

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students put out a statement dissociating itself from the Religious Zionists, Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, citing their homophobia, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism.

"We must always work towards peace and coexistence, to better Israel and Israeli society and for that to happen we must call out the mainstreaming of extremist ideologies. We are an organisation rooted in activism, Judaism, Zionism and pluralism, and for us, none of these values exist to the exclusion of any of the other. We cannot allow these men to co-opt the ideologies we hold so dear and it is for this reason that we say Lo bishmenu - not in our name."

In a front-page editorial last week, the Australian Jewish News argued the values espoused by Otzma Yehudit politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich and their alliance not only run counter to democratic values, but also to our Jewish values.

“Their increased influence could prove catastrophic for Israeli society’s uneasy cohesion, the robustness of Israel’s democracy and its image to the outside world.”

The paper said an Israel that embraced a far-Right party would lead to increased antisemitism in the Diaspora and make it impossible to fight the characterisation of Israel as colonialist, racist and apartheid in nature.

“We fight these things because we know we are right. But how are we to continue to effectively defend an Israel where Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s negative influence runs rampant, potentially dismantling all we defend and hold dear?

Much is at stake. While we respect Israel’s democratic process, we also must speak out against the mainstreaming of extremist ideologies in Israeli society.”


Far-Right Ben Gvir demands to be public security minister in next government (Times of Israel)

Ultra-nationalist leader details a 10-point plan to combat terrorism, including arming reserve soldiers and creating a "National Guard" of 10 Border Police battalions

Israel's far-Right legislator says he will end Netanyahu corruption trial (Ynet)

Itamar Ben-Gvir says would legislate law grants sitting PM almost complete criminal immunity; co-leader Smotrich, says his proposal to remove breach of trust from criminal code, or Ben-Gvir proposals would not apply to Netanyahu criminal trial

PA official to Post: Rise of far Right in Israel ‘dangerous and harmful’ (Jerusalem Post)

Ahmed al-Deek: “Until when will Israel continue to avoid fulfilling its obligations under the terms of the peace agreements signed with the Palestinians?”

Photo: Ben-Gvir on the hustings

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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