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Far-right Ben-Gvir becomes Israel’s national security minister

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JERUSALEM — Extremist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has a long track record of anti-Arab rhetoric and stunts, will become Israel’s next minister of national security, according to the first of what is expected to be several coalition deals signed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Likud announced Friday the agreement with Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power Party.

Negotiations with three other potential far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners are continuing. If successful, Netanyahu would return to the prime minister’s office and preside over the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history.

The attribution of the sensitive role to Ben-Gvir raises concerns about a further escalation of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Ben-Gvir and his allies hope to grant immunity to Israeli soldiers who shoot at Palestinians, deport rival lawmakers and impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews.

Ben-Gvir is the student of a racist rabbi, Meir Kahane, who was expelled from parliament and whose Kach party was labeled a terrorist group by the United States before his assassination in New York in 1990.

Ahead of the November 1 Israeli election, Ben-Gvir made headlines for his anti-Palestinian speeches and stunts, including brandishing a gun and encouraging police to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood.

Before he became a lawyer and entered politics, he was convicted of, among other things, inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization.

In his new position, he would be in charge of the police, which would allow him to implement some of the hardline policies against the Palestinians that he has defended for years.

As part of the coalition deal, the current Department of Homeland Security would be renamed the Ministry of National Security and given expanded powers, Likud said Friday.

As head of the ministry, Ben-Gvir would oversee the police and paramilitary border police operating alongside Israeli soldiers in Palestinian population centers.

Likud MP Yaron Levin hailed the agreement, signed on Thursday, as “the first agreement on the path to establishing a stable right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Ben-Gvir first entered parliament in 2021 after his Jewish power party merged with the Religious Zionist party. Ben-Gvir’s closest political ally, leader of Religious Zionism, Bezalel Smotrich, is in separate negotiations with Likud, which emerged as the largest party in the election.

Netanyahu has objected to some demands, such as Smotrich seeking the defense ministry. Talks are currently focusing on the terms under which Smotrich would become Treasury Secretary.

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