Itamar Ben-Gvir was born on May 6, 1976, in Mevaseret Zion on the outskirts of Jerusalem. His father worked at a gasoline company and dabbled in writing. His mother was a Kurdish Jewish immigrant who had been active in the Irgun as a teenager and was a homemaker. His family was secular, but as a teenager, he adopted religious and radical right-wing views during the First Intifada.
He first joined a right-wing youth movement affiliated with Moledet, a party that advocated transferring Arabs out of Israel, and then joined the youth movement of the even more radical Kach and Kahane Chai party, which was eventually designated as a terrorist organization and outlawed by the Israeli government. He became the youth coordinator of Kach and claimed that he was detained at age 14. After a number of run-ins with the law, he was convicted of incitement to racism, interfering with a police officer performing his duty, and support for a terrorist organization. When he came of age for conscription into the Israel Defense Forces at 18, the military decided he was too dangerous and exempted him from service.
Ben-Gvir studied law at the Ono Academic College. At the end of his studies, the Israel Bar Association blocked him from taking the bar exam on grounds of his criminal record. He appealed the decision and was ultimately allowed to obtain a license to practice after being acquitted in three outstanding criminal cases against him. He subsequently became known for representing far-right Jewish activists suspected of terrorism and hate crimes.
In the 1990s, he was active in protests against the Oslo Accords. In 1995, a few weeks before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ben-Gvir came to public attention when he appeared on television brandishing a Cadillac emblem that had been stolen from Rabin’s car and declared: “We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too.”
Ben-Gvir was the parliamentary assistant in the 18th Knesset for Michael Ben-Ari’s Otzma Yehudit Party. The party struck a deal to run with the Jewish Home Party in the April 2019 election but fell below the electoral threshold to win a seat.
For years, Ben-Gvir had a photo of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, hanging in his Kiryat Arba home. He removed it in 2019 after the media publicized it and he feared it would jeopardize his interest in running on the unified right list headed by Naftali Bennett in the 2020 election. Bennett still refused to run with Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir has tried to appear more moderate. He said he no longer considers Goldstein a hero. When his supporters chanted “death to Arabs,” he said instead, “death to terrorists.”
When he was elected to the Knesset in 2021 as a member of the joint list formed by Otzma Yehudit, Noam and the Religious Zionism Party, however, his views and behavior were not temperate. As Calev Ben-Dor enumerated:
“Consciously or not,” journalist Yossi Klein Halevi told Fathom, “Ben Gvir has taken a page out of the European far right playbook who have worked hard to rid themselves of their overt anti-Semitism and to present themselves as normative right-wing parties. Ben Gvir is doing the same with his anti-Arab racism.”
Before the 2022 election, Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a deal for Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party to run together with Otzma Yehudit to assure they would win seats in the Knesset and give Netanyahu a better chance of getting the 61 seats he needed to become prime minister again.
The Times of Israel summarized the most prominent policy positions of the party: “encouraging Arab citizens of Israel to emigrate; annexing the West Bank without affording Palestinians the right to vote or other civil rights; imposing the death penalty for terrorists; using live fire against Palestinian rioters; immunity from prosecution for IDF soldiers for military actions they carry out; overhauling the legal system, crimping the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation and giving the government the ability to pack the bench with ideological compatriots.”
Just before the election, Ben-Gvir said he would introduce legislation to cancel Netanyahu’s graft trial.
The party did better than expected, winning nearly 11% of the vote and 14 seats, making it the third-largest party in the 25th Knesset. The likelihood that the party will be part of a governing coalition under Netanyahu has alarmed many Israelis, Jews abroad, and international leaders.
The success of the party was attributed in part, Ben-Dor noted, to “feelings of fear and vulnerability within wider parts of the Israeli public… exacerbated during the riots that swept mixed Jewish-Arab cities in May 2021, in which 10 synagogues and 112 Jewish residences were set ablaze and three Jews murdered.”
During the consultation with President Isaac Herzog after the election to determine who would be given the first opportunity to form a government (Herzog chose Netanyahu), Herzog told Ben-Gvir, “You and your party have a certain image that has elicited concern in many places regarding your attitude toward Arabs and Muslims in our country.” Ben-Gvir said, “I’m not a racist, you know that perfectly well. I love my people and want things to be good for the Arabs in Umm el-Fahm and Nazareth and to have order. When there’s no order there, we don’t have order either. I don’t make generalizations about all the Arabs.”
Concerned with past statements Ben-Gvir has made about the Temple Mount, Herzog said, “The Muslim world asks me about the Temple Mount. That topic is sensitive.”
“We aren’t saying that the Temple Mount isn’t sacred to others, but it must be remembered that the Temple Mount is our heart, our history,” Ben-Gvir replied. “I ask you, sir, when you speak with all the officials, to remember and recall that the Mount is sacred to the people of Israel too. We all oppose racism, and you cannot tell a Jew, ‘You can’t visit the Temple Mount because you’re Jewish.’”
Ben-Gvir justified the fears of many inside and outside Israel when he gave a speech praising Meir Kahane, who he considers a spiritual mentor, at a memorial for the rabbi on November 10, 2022. He attracted boos when he said, “It is no secret that today I am not Rabbi Kahane and I do not support the deportation of all Arabs, and I will not enact laws for separate beaches.” He won back the crowd when he said, “we will act and do everything to expel terrorists from the country for the sake of the Jewish character of Israel, for the settlements and its Jewish identity,”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent; there is no other word for it. It is abhorrent. And we remain concerned, as we said before, by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of rhetoric among violent, right-wing extremists.”
News reports have suggested the Biden administration may boycott Ben-Gvir if he is a minister in the government.
Ben-Gvir is married to Ayala Nimrodi. The couple has five children, and they live in Kiryat Arba/Hebron in the Occupied West Bank.
Sources: Calev Ben-Dor, “The Rise of Itamar Ben Gvir,” Fathom, (September 2022).
“Israel Election: Meet the Extremist Lawmakers About to Join the Government,” Haaretz, (
“Itamar Ben-Gvir,” Wikipedia.
Barak Ravid, “U.S. unlikely to work with Jewish supremacist expected to be made Israeli minister,” Axios, (November 2, 2022).
Jeremy Sharon, “Ben Gvir hails racist Kahane, is booed for saying he doesn’t want to expel all Arabs,” Times of Israel, (November 10, 2022).|
“Department Press Briefing,” U.S. Department of State, (November 10, 2022).
Photo: דוד דנברג, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.