With the return of Benjamin Netanyahu to power, Israel is witnessing the resurgence of the extreme right-wing, a unique phenomenon that will pave the way for ultranationalist leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, once convicted of racism, to emerge as the kingmaker.
As Netanyahu and his allies gift Israel its most right-wing government in history, the establishment Left-wing party Meretz, for the first time since 1992, is left without any presence in the next Knesset.
Of the 120 seats, Netanyahu's Likud party won 32 while outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid came second with 24 seats. But, Likud's coalition partner Religious Zionism, headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, earned 14 seats. The party more than doubled its number of seats fuelled by the hardline messages propagated by Ben-Gvir.
Netanyahu's other two coalition partners are the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism and the religious Sephardi party Shas, both community based and worked towards keeping a grip on the country's religious establishment.
Though Netanyahu had earlier claimed that his party, a centre-right outfit, will not be influenced by the views of the extremist parties despite joining hands, their being in the government could have far-reaching consequences. Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionism in power means vast implications for the LGBTQ community, secular citizens and Palestinians, many of whom have already raised concerns about his agenda.
Implications of Ben-Gvir's entry
Known for his rambunctious statements and hardline agenda, Ben-Gvir was once a lawbreaker and a fringe element. He is a Kahanist, a disciple of Meir Kahane, a rabbi who wanted to strip Arab Israelis of citizenship.
Ben-Gvir and his ally Bezalel Smotrich are proponents of the settler movement – Jews who live primarily in the West Bank and believe Jews should control the occupied territories. Naturally, their being in government could mean the expansion of settlements considered illegal under international law.
So controversial is he that the left-leaning US Jewish does not want to ally with him. Last month Ben-Gvir was seen brandishing a handgun and urging police to fire at Palestinians who were pelting stones.
Despite Likud emerging as the biggest party in the Knesset, the Religious Zionism party has already demanded the police ministry. Netanyahu has agreed too, stating Ben-Gvir is "a viable candidate for police minister."
If that is to happen, the Jewish-Arab conflict can worsen and further escalation is likely. It can also test the US-Israel relations as the left-leaning Jewish community in the US aren't excited about his presence.
For Palestinians, this will be "disastrous." Human rights activist and political analyst Bassem Eid told USA Today there is no doubt this will make the situation for Palestinians much worse.
The settlement enterprise in the West Bank is likely to get a boost, especially since Ben-Gvir's goal is to evict Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
"Look at Ben Gvir's history, his actions, his statements. This is not someone we want to see as part of the government," Reuters quoted a report about a comment made by an official in US President Joe Biden's administration.
Besides, all corruption charges against the new Prime Minister will vanish as one of the poll agendas of the Religious Zionist itself was to abolish offences of fraud and breach of trust against lawmakers.
The party also seeks to revamp the legal system of the country. by curtailing the power of the Supreme Court. Critics and the left wing have called this move an attack on democracy.
The LGBTQ community will also be at the receiving end as both Ben Gvir and Smotrich are known to call them "abomination."