President Herzog caught warning Shas that ‘whole world is afraid of Ben Gvir’

The statement was recorded during the meeting at the President’s Office to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister, when Herzog thought the microphone was off.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

President Isaac Herzog was caught Wednesday warning Shas representatives against their soon-to-be coalition colleague, Otzma Yehudit faction chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Speaking to the haredi Orthodox faction’s parliamentarians, who had come to recommend Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu as the next head of state, Herzog spoke when he thought the microphones recording the formal proceedings had already been turned off.

Referencing the right-wing firebrand not by name but by one of the issues he is most closely identified with, he said, “There’s one topic I didn’t raise. You will have a problem with the Temple Mount. This is a critical issue. I know, but you have a partner that the whole world around us is afraid of. Between us, I also told him this. Really this is not for publication. I don’t want to make trouble, but I think you have a responsibility.”

The MKs understood the reference, and one can be heard responding, “But he’s moderated,” before the hot mic went cold.

Ben-Gvir is a regular visitor of the Temple Mount, and has advocated for strengthening Israeli sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest site in the face of repeated Arab violence.

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In the current coalition negotiations, he has demanded the Public Security ministry, which oversees the police who are in charge of guarding the Temple Mount. Ben-Gvir is known for criticizing the police for using their court-granted carte blanche to close the site to Jewish visitors.

He has also slammed the authorities for arresting or escorting off many Jewish visitors for praying or even sitting quietly on the Mount, even though Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld at least in theory their basic right of freedom of worship.

The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, who is one of Shas’ spiritual leaders, came out against Ben-Gvir in June for visiting the site, adhering to the rulings of a majority of ultra-Orthodox rabbis that Jews should not enter any part of the Mount for religious reasons.

Ben-Gvir, Rabbi Yosef said, “stirs things up and transgresses” the ban. “You need…to keep your distance from him and from all those who lead him.”

Many religious Zionist rabbinic leaders permit entry to certain sections of the Mount, as after intense study they believe they know where the holy Temples had stood and that area can be easily avoided.

After Herzog’s words went public, his office put out a statement saying that the president had passed on to the faction “concerns about MK Itamar Ben-Gvir’s positions on certain issues” that he had heard from various sources, and added that Herzog had “emphasized the responsibility placed on all elected officials.”

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The statement also noted that Herzog had “raised the issue” with Ben-Gvir as well, “in an open and honest conversation.”

For his part, Ben-Gvir said that he and the president “have had many fruitful conversations in recent weeks,” and that Herzog had said that “he is confident that if I speak to the world they will understand and recognize that I am not generalizing about all the Arabs.”

The MK, once a prominent supporter of the teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has made a point of emphasizing recently that he is only against Arab terrorists and their enablers, and that only those who break the law should be punished.

Kan News reported Sunday that Jordanian officials have warned against Ben Gvir’s desire to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, saying bilateral ties will be harmed if the new government carries alters any of the current arrangements on the site.

Certain sections of Diaspora Jewry have come out publicly against Netanyahu giving Ben-Gvir a ministerial post

Leaders of the Conservative movement expressed their concern in terms of the MK’s stands that oppose theirs on “sensitive issues like the egalitarian Kotel, conversion and who is a Jew,” as well as “positions regarding basic elements of democracy and diversity, such as Jewish pluralism, LGBTQ and vulnerable minorities.”

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A progressive rabbinic human rights group, T’ruah, went much further, stating, “With his record of hate speech and violence, coupled with his strong anti-Arab racist beliefs, Ben-Gvir has no place in the political mainstream.”