One of Israel’s most controversial politicians, known for his inflammatory anti-Arab speeches and stunts, is attracting new supporters from a previously untapped demographic — young chareidi Jews, one of the fastest-growing segments of the country’s population.
Itamar Ben-Gvir’s sharp rise in popularity in the last three years has transformed him from a fringe provocateur to a central player in Tuesday’s parliament election. Polls indicate his Religious Zionism party could emerge as the third-largest and help return former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power.
His appeal is a reflection of the ongoing right-ward shift of the Israeli electorate over the years, with Ben-Gvir and his party also attracting voters who previously supported other right-wing parties.
This shift is particularly noticeable among Israel’s 1.3 million ultra-Orthodox Jews who make up 13% of the population.
The community is growing at a breakneck rate, with an average birth rate more than twice the national average. Children make up half of their population, and young adults between 18-35 another quarter.
Ben-Gvir’s appeal among young chareidim reflects a shift in the political preferences of a community that cleaves to a strict adherence to religious tradition. For decades, the ultra-Orthodox largely voted for two chareidi political parties — United Torah Judaism and Shas.
Those parties promoted the community’s interests in exchange for supporting coalition governments with a range of ideological flavors — though the chareidim had a preference for center-right factions that tended to be more culturally conservative.
But several prominent rabbis who served as spiritual leaders for these parties have died in recent years. Analysts say younger and middle-aged chareidim are growing disillusioned with the old guard.
“The majority of relatively younger ultra-Orthodox — under the age of 50 — have turned right-wing, and sometimes staunchly right-wing, something that in the past didn’t exist,” said Moshe Hellinger, a political scientist at Israel’s Bar Ilan University.
The chareidi political leadership lacks a strong, charismatic leader “and this vacuum allows (voters) to go in different directions,” Hellinger said.
Into that void steps Ben-Gvir.
Voting records from predominantly chareidi communities indicate that since Ben-Gvir entered politics in 2019, support for him in those areas has increased over Israel’s four successive elections — though he still lagged behind the established chareidi parties.
Ben Gvir’s campaign declined requests by The Associated Press to interview him or officials managing outreach to the chareidi community.
Several factors appear to be driving his growing popularity in the community.
Some chareidim prefer the Religious Zionism party’s mix of Orthodox Jewish and ultra- nationalist messaging to that of Netanyahu’s Likud party which, while hard-line, remains predominantly secular.
Recent years have also seen an uptick in attacks by Palestinian terrorist targeting chareidim, as part of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In March, shortly after a Palestinian gunman opened fire on the streets of Bnei Brak, killing five Israelis, Ben Gvir arrived on the scene and delivered statements to TV cameras surrounded by a throng of young chareidi men.
The scene repeated itself in May, after a Palestinian killed three Israelis in the central town of Elad.
At a recent campaign rally in Elad, Ben-Gvir whipped up a gender-segregated crowd, calling for the death penalty for convicted Palestinian militants. The audience, many of them young men in white button-down shirts and black yarmulkas, responded with cheers and whistles, then chants of, “Death to Arabs” and “Death to terrorists.”
David Cohen, a resident of Beit Shemesh, a heavily chareidi city west of Jerusalem, said he would vote for Ben-Gvir, comparing him to former U.S. President Donald Trump and describing him as a straight-talking man of action.
“He seems to be the only one that will really accomplish anything,” Cohen said of Ben-Gvir. “He’s a guy that says what he means and means what he says.”
Ben-Gvir first entered parliament in 2021, after his Jewish Power party merged with the Religious Zionism party. Jewish Power, which failed to cross the electoral threshold in the 2019 and 2020 elections, is the successor to the outlawed Kach party of the late ultra-nationalist politician Meir Kahane.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the Religious Zionism party has surged in the polls. It’s forecast to win twice as many seats as in the previous election and could make the difference between Netanyahu returning to power or remaining in the opposition.
It will be the fifth election in under four years, largely fought over whether Netanyahu is fit to rule while facing corruption charges.
Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of offenses that include inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization, went on to make a legal career out of defending Jewish extremists charged with violent offenses.
He lives in Kiryat Arba, next to Chevron, the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. Until recently, he displayed a photo in his home of Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli who killed 29 Palestinians and wounded over 100 in a shooting attack at Meoras Hamachpeila in 1993.
On Shabbos, a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at Israelis in Kiryat Arba, killing a 50-year-old man and wounding several others.
While a hawkish booster of Israeli security forces — advocating immunity from prosecution for soldiers and the death sentence for Palestinians convicted of attacks on Jews — Ben-Gvir did not serve in the military; he was issued an exemption because of his extremist ideology.
In the run-up to the election, Ben Gvir told public broadcaster Kan that he advocated dismantling the Palestinian self-rule government and annexing the West Bank, while simultaneously denying its roughly 2.5 million Palestinian residents the right to vote for Israel’s Knesset.
“There’s no such thing as Palestine, this is ours, this is our land,” he said.
Political scientist Shira Efron, who heads the Israel Policy Forum think tank, said she believes the rise of Ben-Gvir is a result of what she described as systematic incitement, mostly by Netanyahu and his Likud party, against Israel’s large Arab minority.
Ben-Gvir is “shrewd, charismatic and expresses what many Jewish Israelis sadly think but until now didn’t feel comfortable saying out loud,” she said.
A vote for Itamar Ben-Gvir is a vote to go to Gehenim.
I didn’t say this, the Gedolei Yisroel shlit”a said it.
makes no difference who said it…….I am voting BIBI
Sounds a lot like “following the science”.
The swing of the Charedi population to the right is a natural reaction to the terror that they face on a daily basis, as well as a result of the incompetence of UTJ and Shas.
Oy. Article is hopefully just agenda driven. Bottom line, we have a Torah, the richest mesorah that anyone can even dream for. In the end it’s up to every courageous individual in our wonderful Klal Yisroel to follow our mesorah or reject it. It’s an opportunity for everyone to do what in their heart of hearts is right. Shema Beni Musar Avicha Val Titosh Toras Imecha. Be strong. Do what’s right. For the sake of Klal Yisroel in such crazy times follow the historically known winners, our Torah leadership – even if you don’t fully understand it – YET – due to a lot of misinformation out there. You will not regret it…
>>>Political scientist Shira Efron, who heads the Israel Policy Forum think tank, said she believes the rise of Ben-Gvir is a result of what she described as systematic incitement, mostly by Netanyahu and his Likud party, against Israel’s large Arab minority.
Seems more like a result of systematic Arab terrorism
Rav Gershon Edelstein Shlite and other gedolim have used extremely strong language for those voting for alternative parties. What is important to us, is the preservation of the status quo on religious matters, something that’s for other religious parties secondly, as we’ve seen with Benneth.
Also, much of Ben Gvir’s policies, may be against daas torah – we just learnt recently in Daf Yomi NOT TO FIGHT the nations.
This minute I just received a canned election phone call from Ben Gvir (on my Kosher phone) asking me and the Haredi public to vote Tet. He claims he always supported the agenda of the Haredi parties and acts according to Gedolei Yisrael ?!
What a joke … Since when is going up to Har Habayit following the directives of Gedolei Yisrael ?!
Please don”t vote Tet simply because they are a simply a bunch of בריונים who have big mouths
I guess there is no choice – I”ll vote Gimmel as always
(I am also tired of Aguda politicians who ignore us 364 days a year and one day a year suddenly love us).
Anyway I think Lapid makes more sense than Netanyahu or is a bit less corrupt and probably will bend over backwards to help the Haredim more than the Right will
but I”ll let HKB”H and Rav Gershon decide that one
UTJ and Shas are corrupt and incompetent
I will be voting for נעם (Religious Zionism)
time to be much tougher on the arabs, and end all gay parades in ירושלים once and for all…
i suppose it doesn’t help when both the “religious parties” are led by convicted criminals?
Anyone on the wrong side of secular political power heads (and in USA especially liberal power heads at this point) will be a convicted criminal. They will make sure of that. What a proud designation. If you are frum, they will find something to indict you on. Sadly some people walk around with blinders. Don’t go down in history as one of those that knows better than Torah leadership. You will be eternally remembered on the wrong side of history like the beryonim. Vote history! Vote our essence! Vote with your neshama. Vote for Torah and Klal Yisroel. There is enough problems out there. Let’s get out there and do something meaningful and right! Don’t lose your world to come, after working hard for 120 years on this world…
yeah yeah, sure thing
threaten us with “Gehenim” if we don’t vote for your failed political party
I have a Rov who I ask all my halachic sheilos to. I live in Yerushalayim not Bnei Brak, so my Rov is here in Yerushalayim. I discuss hashkofic issues with him but he draws a very clear line between halocha, which he will happily pasken, and hashkofa which he will share his thoughts and advise on, all the time making it clear that it is my achrayus to make the decisions, that is what bechira is about. He has told me how he is voting but said that I have no obligation to follow his choice; it is not “daas Torah”. When he tells me I cannot do this on Shabbos or I should do that, those are piskei halocha. That is Daas Torah. He strongly holds that Rabbonim should not meddle in politics. Would that all Rabbonim were so clear
By voting for Shas or Gimel the voter is making a statement, that he, or she, puts Hashem, and Torah, before all else.
Those are the only parties that the voters are NOT voting for the MKs.
No one is voting for Gafni, No one is voting for Deri.
We vote for Rav Shach, R’ Chaim Kanievsky, R’ Gershon Eidelstein. We vote for Rav Ovadia Yosef & Chacham Shalom Cohen.
We vote for Kashrus, Geirus, Torah, Shabbos, Chinuch, the Kosel, Taharas haMishpacha etc.
Whether or not the Charedi MKs are doing the best job is not our issue. (They are answerable to the Gedolim and the Chachamim, not to us). But they are certainly doing way more for Halacha and Torah than any other party.
In post-war USA, putting Torah & Halacha before all else, used to mean sacrificing one’s job every Friday.
In medieval Spain, putting Torah & Halacha before all else, used to mean sacrificing one’s life in an auto-da-fé.
In modern day Israel, putting Torah & Halacha before all else means sacrificing one’s political vote for the benefit of Kashrus, Geirus, Torah, Shabbos, Chinuch etc.
JO – The issues involved are not for every rov who has learnt Shulchan Oruch to decide, these are for the Gedolim to decide.
It’s not a new thing, in Moshe rabbeinu’s times already there were שרי עשרות, שרי מאות, שרי עשרות
וכל הדבר הקשה יביאון אלי
Besides, many rabbonim do not push their veiw about voting when they know they can lose another person. There is no sense in paskening to vote for A or B when, chances are, that their congregants will think they know better…. The only result will be that they will asking about Shabbos too.
Do it as your personal, private mitzva between you & Hashem.
Don’t vote to improve the next four years (if the gov. can last so long…..) do it for your eternal Olam Haba.
they will STOP asking about Shabbos too.
GotAGoodPoint: I could not have worded it better! ישר כח
I would actually be very interested in seeing the exit polls and voting data to see how many Chareidim opted out of voting for Shas or Gimmel. Times are changing.