Netanyahu boosts far-right extremist Ben-Gvir in re-election bid
Itamar Ben-Gvir has described a Jewish extremist who massacred 29 Palestinians as his "hero", but he could be elected to Israel's parliament next week thanks partly to right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ben-Gvir's political life has had many incarnations, including leader of the Jewish Power party and his current candidacy for the Religious Zionism alliance, which polls show could win four seats in Tuesday's election.
But amid shifting alliances, key aspects of Ben-Gvir's ideology have remained constant.
He was inspired by the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement wanted to expel Palestinian-Israelis from the state.
Kahane was elected to parliament in 1984, but was disqualified from running again in 1988 due to his party's racism.
Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, provided ideological inspiration for Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994.
Ben-Gvir has on multiple occasions voiced admiration for Goldstein and hung a portrait of the convicted mass-murderer in his home.
His Jewish Power party also backs Israel's annexation of the entire occupied West Bank, which is home to some 2.8 million Palestinians.
Netanyahu is facing his fourth re-election battle in less than two years and polls show he could again struggle to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
Seeking to make up a potential loss of seats to the New Hope party formed last year by prominent defectors from his Likud movement, Netanyahu helped orchestrate a new alliance of far-right religious nationalists.
If this new bloc, Religious Zionism, crosses the minimum threshold required to sit in parliament, it would likely provide the pro-Netanyahu camp with four desperately needed additional seats.
The prime minister has not denied that he helped broker the pact that saw Jewish Home join forces with National Union, led by Betzalel Smotrich, and the Noam party.
Netanyahu has told Israeli media that Ben-Gvir will not get a cabinet position in his government, but would be part of his "coalition."
Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid said in a tweet last month that it was a "disgrace" Netanyahu was "trying to push" Jewish Power into parliament.
Labour party leader Merav Michaeli has also criticised Ben-Gvir's political re-emergence, citing his incendiary conduct before the 1995 assassination of then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Weeks before Rabin was shot in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo peace process, Ben-Gvir snatched the Cadillac badge from the late premier's car.
"Like we reached this symbol, we can reach him too," Ben Gvir boasted at the time.
Michaeli, a Rabin disciple, said recently of Ben-Gvir: "The gun that killed Rabin and the vision of peace in 1995 has returned to assassinate Israeli democracy."
Netanyahu’s ‘passion to rule’
Israeli political analyst Shmuel Rosner told AFP that Netanyahu's tacit boosting of Ben-Gvir is further evidence he has "a great passion to rule and [is] willing to do a lot to remain in power."
"He's less interested in etiquette and what people will say or think and more focused on the simple arithmetics of how to retain power.
"If that means he has to push Ben-Gvir to parliament, that won't stop him," Rosner said.
In pursuing a seat in parliament, Ben-Gvir is seeking to follow another Kahane disciple Michael Ben-Ari, in parliament from 2009 to 2013, who was banned from the legislature by the supreme court over his racist and extremist views.
Rosner noted that Israeli politics had shifted since Ben-Ari's tenure, with the electorate overwhelmingly focused on - and divided by - the question of whether Netanyahu deserves to stay or go.
Tolerance of radical voices "has become greater", he said.
"Because the race is so tight and close... more and more psychological barriers are being removed."
While Ben-Gvir remains steadfast in his extremist views and has not disavowed his past support for the mass-murderer Goldstein, he marginally distanced himself from Kahane during the campaign.
Ben-Gvir told the left-wing Haaretz newspaper last month that while he thought Kahane was "wonderful", he did not view himself as the late rabbi's successor and their ideologies were "different."
Following Goldstein's Hebron massacre, Israel branded Kahane's Kach movement a "terrorist" organisation.