It took 4 rounds of voting to normalize Ben Gvir.  By the end of the 5th, he’s a star

It took 4 rounds of voting to normalize Ben Gvir. By the end of the 5th, he’s a star

It took 4 rounds of voting to normalize Ben Gvir. By the end of the 5th, he’s a star

KIRYAT ARBA, West Bank. When Itamar Ben Gvir walked into his local polling station on the morning of the last election 19 months ago, there was hardly anyone to greet him.

A religious Zionist candidate waited patiently in line at a school in the southern West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, where the elderly woman in front of him did not appear to recognize him. Then he cast his vote, recorded a brief video announcement for any reporters who weren’t part of his entourage, and got back into his modest car on his way to the next campaign stop.

At the time, he was a fringe candidate who only managed to sneak into the Knesset after three failed attempts, thanks to a merger with fellow far-right Bezalel Smotrich engineered by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

But when Ben Gvir pulled up to the same polling station on Tuesday, he did so in a convoy of SUVs. He wore a tie and a much fancier suit than the one he wore last year, and was flanked by security guards who kept him away from dozens of reporters and photographers awaiting his arrival.

There was a good reason for the surroundings. Polls predict that Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party, in which he is number 2, will make significant gains in the Knesset, from its current seven seats to between 12 and 15 seats.

Ben Gvir is a self-proclaimed disciple of extremist rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party has been banned and designated a terrorist group in both Israel and the US. Like the late Kahane, Ben Gvir has been convicted of multiple terrorism-related charges, although he also claims to have become more moderate in recent years and does not hold the same beliefs as Kach’s founder. He became a lawyer, serving as defense counsel in dozens of high-profile cases.

Ben Gwir spent the morning making stops in some of the same southern cities he visited the previous election day, places that have long been strongholds for other right-wing parties. But the mob that mobbed him on Tuesday showed a shift to the far right among Israeli voters.

It took 4 rounds of voting to normalize Ben Gvir.  By the end of the 5th, he’s a star

MK Itamar Ben Gvir of Religious Zionism arrives at a polling station in the settlement of Kiryat Arba on November 1, 2022. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

It was that change that forced Netanyahu and the leaders of the two ultra-Orthodox parties to plead for the loyalty of their voter bases ahead of the election, insisting that Ben Gvir would get a ministerial post regardless of the number of seats. his party won. By contrast, last year Netanyahu even encouraged on-the-fence voters to vote for religious Zionism in an effort to ensure that the far-right party would cross the threshold.

But Ben Gvir’s campaign message, which focused on building an iron fist against “disloyal” Palestinians and Arab Israelis, introducing the death penalty for terrorists and improving Israelis’ sense of security more broadly, resonated in a country with many citizens. feel that the more nuanced policies of other parties have failed.

At his second campaign stop, Kiryat Malachi, Ben Gvir was greeted with chants of “The next prime minister has arrived” by more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox elementary school boys. The far-right lawmaker quickly corrected them that he only wanted to be public safety minister, at least this time.

Netanyahu appeared to welcome Ben Gvir’s bid for the post, which oversees the police, after it was announced last week, but the former prime minister’s religious-right alliance must first win 61 seats to form a coalition. Polls, while notoriously unreliable, have consistently shown for months that the group will simply concede.

Some new supporters of Religious Zionism in the previous election, it voted for Yamina, a slightly more moderate religiously driven party that broke with the rest of the alliance to form a motley coalition with anti-Netanyahu parties.

Young supporters of Religious Zionism pose next to Itamar Ben Gvir in Kiryat Malachi on November 1, 2022. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Ben Gvir’s far-right party was too Poaching votes from Haredi parties.

At Kiryat Malachi on Tuesday, a group of ultra-Orthodox boys, all dressed in white T-shirts and black pants, excitedly said their parents were voting for Religious Zionism.

“They finished with the chassis.” one of them, referring to the ultra-orthodox “Mizrahi” party, declared. “It’s Ben Gvir’s Time!”

Their excitement didn’t stop a lone Shas supporter from pleading with voters as they entered the polling station, apparently to no avail as one after another told him they were “electing Ben Gvir”.

In the city of Sderot, which has long been the target of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the news of the arrival of a far-right politician was announced ahead of time.

“Guys, Ben Gvir is coming!” shouted a man selling goods in the city’s open market. Excited, the greenie pulled out a speaker and microphone from under the nectar and began playing the campaign sound for Ben Gvir’s party.

Itamar Ben Gvir campaigns in Sderot on election day in November 2022 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

A few minutes later, the deputy’s convoy arrived, which was attacked by dozens of excited shoppers who hugged, kissed and took selfies with him.

“We are here to tell our enemies who owns the house.” one of them shouted from the loudspeaker.

When asked if he feels a difference between this election and the previous one, Ben Gvir answered: “This time you feel the level of support. I don’t know how it will end, but you really feel it.”

“It’s going to end up being 17 seats,” shouted the grape-selling man leading the charge.

“God forbid,” Ben Gwyr interjected.

Returning to the microphone as he walked through the market, Ben Gvir announced: “It’s time to return security to the Negev.”

Religious Zionist MK Itamar Ben Gvir campaigning at the Sderot Open Market on Election Day, November 1, 2022. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

“What about Sderot?” muttered a seemingly impressed onlooker, among those who did not leave their posts to surround Ben Gvir.

The man, who identified himself only as Eli, said he would vote for Likud. “What does that person have to do with me?” He asked.

Likud won 40 percent of Sderot’s vote in the last election, almost four times more than any other party.

Undaunted, Ben Gvir began to hold court behind one of the fruit boxes, shouting: “Guys. Tomato, cucumber, watermelon and pineapple. A completely right-wing government.”

“Take a picture of me with our king,” said one shopper, handing his phone to a neighbor so he could take a photo with the lawmaker aiming to become the next public safety minister.

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