Many in Israel’s Arab population are conflicted over the possibility of Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir possibly being made Public Security Minister during the formation of the next government.
“Whoever calls Arab Israelis terrorists will not be accepted in our town,” Shuaa Mansour Masarwa, mayor of Tayibe – an Arab village located in center Israel – said on Ben-Gvir possibly entering office as Public Security Minister.
Ben-Gvir had marked the position since before the elections, and with Otzma Yehudit’s successful results, the scenario is worrying to the Israeli Arab sector.
Ben-Gvir’s remarks on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem are worrying to Israeli Arab leaders. “al-Aqsa is the most sensitive subject for over a billion Muslims across the world. We already saw in the past the results of allowing Jews to enter it, and the riots that ensued whenever it came up on the news,” Masarwa said.
He added: “I hope the government will wake up and prevent provocations, the government isn’t formed yet and things could change.”
“I’m not sure the next government will agree to Ben-Gvir’s demands, especially as the ministry he want to lead has a major impact on Israeli society,” Masarwa said. “It’s hard to believe anyone in Israel’s Arab population will accept Ben-Gvir. His extremist opinions and ideology guided him in every role he undertook in the past.”
He added: “unfortunately the Arab legislators were mistaken when they toppled the previous government without a proper alternative, it caused a political catastrophe.”
Abed Albaset Salama, mayor of the Arab city of Qalansawe, also commented on Ben-Gvir. “If he continues to hold the same opinions on the al-Aqsa mosque, we’ll have war and an intifada. If Ben-Gvir becomes Public Security Minister we’ll learn how to treat him, we still don’t know his intentions.”
“In the past we saw that when Avigdor Liberman became the Defense Minister, after he made awful remarks against Arab Israelis he calmed down, I think It’ll be the same with Ben-Gvir,” Salama added.
An Arab mayor from the Galilee said that “Ben-Gvir belongs in prison, not the Knesset. He’s racist and a dangerous criminal. We saw how he pulled out a weapon and threatened civilians with it,” he said.
“If he becomes Public Security Minister, I personally will not meet with him,” the mayor added. “Even if it means resigning from my post.”
Unease is also felt among Arab Israeli residents at Ben-Gvir’s possible position. Riad Amash, a resident Jisr az-Zarqa – an Arab village on the coast, also said he worries about Ben-Gvir’s possible future ministerial post.
“Ben-Gvir wants Jewish prayers in the al-Aqsa mosque, and must realize that it will offend every Muslim in the world. War will ensue and Israel will be in a tough position. I’ll fight for al-Aqsa and I’m not religious, if Ben-Gvir wants a war, let him try.”
Amash also said he believes Ben-Gvir is unfit to be the Public Security minister. “Talks before and after the elections aren’t the same, Ben-Gvir is a politician. He doesn’t scare us, and he might be more honest than any other politician in the last 30 years.”
He added: “Maybe Ben-Gvir will change everything, although I don’t think he can stop the crime and murder rates in the Arab sector. I don’t think Netanyahu will put him in that role.”
Only a third of the residents of Umm al-Fahm, an Arab city in Northern Israel, cast their votes in the recent elections, and mostly voted for Arab parties. They too were surprised with the popularity and success of Otzma Yehudit.
Mohammad Agbaria, a resident of the city and a social activist, said that “the biggest fear is that Ben-Gvir will harm the al-Aqsa mosque, which will cross a red line. There will be dire consequences, and everyone in the government should caution him against his actions.”
Agbaria also said that Ben-Gvir might act the same as Liberman, and do nothing despite his remarks. “He also threated Israeli Arabs and did nothing. We’re worried, but not everything that’s said will end up happening.”
He added: “MKs have a limit, and Ben-Gvir can’t do whatever he wants. He’s racist, calls for violence against Arabs and provokes conflict. I hope he won’t act like this when he becomes a minister. He might have plans to deal with crime, which is what the Arab sector wants.”
Ali Jabarin, a member of the Umm al-Fahm municipality, said “there’s no greater danger than giving Ben-Gvir the position of Public Security minister. It’ll be a mistake for Netanyahu to give it to him. How can a man who was criminally charged hold that position?”
He added: “criticism won’t come only from Israeli Arabs. Ben-Gvir is dangerous. He shouldn’t hold a position in the government. If he continues what he’s doing in al-Aqsa he’ll bring war, this is the most sacred place and harming it will bring tensions.”
Another Israeli Arab social activist said “Ben-Gvir’s attitude won’t change if he becomes the Public Security minister. His positions will cause more terror attacks in which Arab Israelis might participate because of their connection to al-Aqsa. The government needs to be careful and not allow Ben-Gvir to hold power because he will only serve to increase racism and tension.”
Yet another Israeli Arab activist from northern Israel added: “We all know Ben-Gvir is unfit for any position in the government. He became popular thanks to his drama, but didn’t contribute anything. He won’t be able to stop crime and murder in the Arab sector and will not work for what we want. If Israel wants peace, it needs to keep Ben-Gvir away from any position having to do with Arab Israelis.”
Ashraf Omar, a resident of Kafr Kanna, said “Ben-Gvir has no place in Arab society. He’ll cause a war as the public security minister. We won’t accept him, and protest his arrival at our village. We saw how he supports those shouting ‘death to Arabs’.”
Samir Ismail, a resident of Nahf, added: “Ben-Gvir has no shame. He threatens people with a gun and demands to become the public security minister. We’re enemies to him, he hates us, and will do much worse as the minister.”
Former MK Yousef Jabareen, spoke after the election’s results were published. “We’re not afraid of Ben-Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich or Netanyahu. Our people are strong and we could challenge Ben-Gvir with Umm al-Fahm as the front line.”
Mohammad abu-Amad, secretary of the Hadash Arab party in Umm al-Fahm, said he was concerned with Ben-Gvir’s growing popularity. “We warned people and said ‘get out and vote’ because we’re afraid of the hard-right taking power, especially since Ben-Gvir doesn’t want us to be in Israel,” he said. “He doesn’t want us to raise the Palestinian flag, which is a symbol for every Israeli Arab.”