A controversy erupted at a school in central Israel on Tuesday after a visit by a far-right lawmaker who was greeted by some students with anti-Arab chants.
Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit party that collaborates with the HaTzionout HaDatit party, was invited to speak at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, a public institution used to encourage student political involvement (the regularly organizes mock elections during national elections and invites politicians to address the students).
The invitation of Ben Gvir, a far-right student of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, to address the students has been criticized in recent days. School principal Hila Romesh denied this, adding that left-wing Joint List leader Ayman Odeh was also soon asked to speak at the school.
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Ben Gvir’s arrival was accompanied by a demonstration at the entrance to the school by dozens of left-wing activists, including Avodah MP Gilad Kariv. A few students, apparently supporters of Ben Gvir, greeted them and chanted “Let your village burn”.
These chants aimed at Arabs have often been heard at far-right events in recent years.
The school principal told the Ynet news site that the far-right MP had been invited to the school as part of an election exercise before the country goes to the polls on Nov. 1.
“I got about 600 messages from opponents and supporters. That’s fine – that’s democracy. Ben Gvir is legally elected, and if the school holds democratic elections [simulées]then all elected officials should be invited, regardless of the political spectrum,” said Ms Romesh.
She condemned the anti-Arab chants and said students who took part were disciplined, but added that there was no alternative to enlistment.
Addressing the assembled students, Ben Gvir said that although he did not know her, Romesh had performed an “act of democracy” by allowing her to speak at school.
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Kariv disagreed. “This is not about training in democracy and a culture of debate – it is morally and educationally bankrupt,” he said. “The Israeli right has enough talented speakers, and we shouldn’t invite a person who hangs a picture of a murderer and a terrorist on the wall of their house. »
Until it started to hurt him politically, Ben Gvir kept on one of the walls of his home in Hebron a photo of Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians who were praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. . Ben Gvir has never denied Goldstein.
Kariv said the students’ racist chants were the result of the normalization of Kahanism, the fear of banning the Lehava organization, the fact that Ben Gvir has become the darling of television studios.
Otzma Yehudit is affiliated with Lehava, a Jewish supremacist anti-miscegenation group.
Ben Gvir is a staunch admirer of Rabbi Kahane, who advocated the transfer of Arabs from Israel out of the country. He was convicted in 2007 of inciting racism after holding up a sign that read “Drive out the Arab enemy” during a demonstration.
Ben Gvir regularly causes friction between Jewish and Arab Israelis and was reportedly accused by the national police chief of complicity in the worst inter-communal violence in Israel’s recent history in May last year.
He has further affiliated himself with some of Israel’s most extreme Jewish movements and activists, including Lehava and Noam, a fiercely homophobic movement.
Blich’s students were clearly divided about Ben Gvir. One teenager told him, “The military didn’t recruit you. You called Baruch Goldstein “my hero” – a killer of 29 people. Why would I, a high school student, and my friends look up to you as a role model? »
Meretz MK Michal Rozin said she was shocked by the scenes at Ramat Gan High School, where she herself studied, and felt they reflected a societal trend.
“I am personally saddened to see what happened this morning at Blich High School, the high school I attended,” Rozin tweeted. “Harsh remarks like ‘burn your village’ should be a wake-up call to the path Israeli society is taking, and ask us very hard questions about our future. »
Last month, Otzma Yehudit and HaTzionut HaDatit announced they had agreed to run together in the upcoming Knesset elections, following a meeting hosted by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu with far-right party leaders to negotiate a merger agreement.
The two factions ran on a joint slate in last year’s election, but were recently split over the composition of the slate for the next ballot, with Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir demanding greater representation, with recent polls showing a surge in his popularity. while Bezalel Smotrich’s HaTzionout HaDatit party got mixed results.
In a joint statement, Otzma Yehudit and HaTzionout HaDatit said the deal would lead to a “victory” for the right-wing religious bloc led by Netanyahu.