President Isaac Herzog said on Wednesday that the “world” was concerned about far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, who is set to become a government minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s fledgling coalition, in comments he apparently had the intention to keep secrets.
Herzog’s remarks, apparently made on the assumption that a microphone he had was turned off, came as he met with party officials at his official residence in Jerusalem to hear their formal recommendations on who should lead the next government.
Videos of the consultations are being streamed live online as part of an effort for transparency, although the hot mic misstep showed the talks were also taking place away from the public eye.
After Herzog’s meeting with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which is also part of Netanyahu’s bloc, the video broadcast ended but the audio continued, filming him taking his concerns about Ben Gvir to lawmakers .
“There’s an issue that I haven’t talked about because I don’t want to shame anyone,” Herzog said. “You are going to have a problem with the Temple Mount. It is a crucial problem.
In the recording, in a clear reference to Ben Gvir, Herzog went on to say, “You have a partner the whole world worries about.”
“I told him that too, between us. It is not for publication. I don’t want to make noise. But I think you have a responsibility,” Herzog said.
A member of the Shas delegation is heard saying “but he is moderate”, before the recording is cut.
Ben Gvir, the leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, demanded that he be given the ministry of public security overseeing the police in the new government.
As public security minister, Ben Gvir would have control of law enforcement at the holy site of the Temple Mount, where activists are increasingly calling for the expansion of Jewish rights and courts have gave the police wide leeway to define policies aimed at maintaining public order.
Ben Gvir, who frequently visits the Temple Mount and supports allowing Jewish prayer there, has a long history of inciting violence and played a role in stoking tensions before the war. last year between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza.
In response to the recording, Herzog’s office said it noted in his conversation with Shas officials “calls were made to him with concern about MP Itamar Ben Gvir’s positions on certain issues.”
The president’s office repeated that Herzog raised the issue during a conversation with Ben Gvir a few days ago.
Jordan’s King Abdullah raised the issue of the Temple Mount and Ben Gvir during a meeting with Herzog earlier this week, warning Israel against any unilateral change to the status quo at the holy site, a senior diplomat said. Middle East at The Times of Israel. Herzog and the monarch met in Egypt on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference.
Ben Gvir said in response to the recording that he and Herzog had “had many fruitful conversations over the past few weeks”.
He said Herzog told him that “he was certain that if I speak with the world, they will realize and recognize that I am not making generalizations against all Arabs”.
Ben Gvir added that he has “started meeting with diplomats and will work to explain Otzma Yehudit positions around the world.”
Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit is part of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance led by Bezalel Smotrich. The party won 14 seats in last week’s elections, making it the third largest in the Knesset and the second largest in Netanyahu’s bloc, and giving its leaders significant influence in the new coalition. Religious Zionism also includes the homophobic Noam party.
Although he is running on a joint slate, Herzog will meet with the three factions separately on Thursday, according to a schedule from the president’s residence.
Otzma Yehudit was once considered irrelevant in Israeli politics, but Netanyahu brought the party into the mainstream last year.
Netanyahu met Ben Gvir for informal coalition talks on Monday. The pair were pictured together for the first time after Netanyahu refused to appear publicly alongside the far-right lawmaker during the election campaign. Ben Gvir said Monday’s meeting “took place in a good atmosphere”.
Foreign allies and Jewish groups have warned against including Ben Gvir in the government.
A Sunday report said Jordanian officials had warned Israel that bilateral relations would suffer if the new government in Jerusalem tried to alter the status quo arrangement on the Temple Mount. Jordan acts as guardian of the holy place.
On Tuesday, the official Zionist branch of the Conservative Movement issued an extraordinary appeal to Netanyahu, urging him not to give Ben Gvir a ministerial post.
The request represented a major escalation in rhetoric between international Jewish organizations and the next alleged government over its likely inclusion of far-right politicians with their history of anti-Arab, anti-LGBTQ and anti-progressive Judaism comments and actions. .
At least two pro-Israel Democrats in the US Congress have warned Israel against further legitimizing Ben Gvir ahead of the election. Netanyahu blasted the warnings, saying he would “not bow his head” to Americans.
During his visit to Washington ahead of the election, Herzog repeatedly urged U.S. officials and Jewish leaders to respect the election results and maintain close ties with Israel, regardless of its outcome, in an apparent attempt to calm the waters before the rise of Ben Gvir.