Netanyahu Banks His Comeback On An Alliance With Israel’s Far Right

Israelis began voting on Tuesday in their fifth general election since 2019.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a campaign event in Bnei Brak, Israel, on Oct. 29, 2022.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a campaign event in Bnei Brak, Israel, on Oct. 29, 2022.

Israelis began voting on Tuesday in their fifth general election since 2019, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plotting his return as part of an alliance that could empower the nation’s far right.

Since Netanyahu stepped down 16 months ago, Israeli politics have been deadlocked between two factions, divided by their support or opposition for the 73-year-old politician. Opponents are determined to prevent his return as he confronts a series of legal cases, while supporters say he’s the subject of a witch-hunt and the only leader who can bring back stability. 

The path back to power for nation’s longest-serving premier likely hinges now on support from a number of once-fringe politicians who have deepened domestic strife and drawn rebukes from the US. Among them is Itamar Ben-Gvir, a 46-year-old lawyer who leads the Jewish Power party and has rallied voters from the far right and ultra-orthodox communities. 

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a campaign event in Bnei Brak, Israel, on Oct. 29.Source: Getty Images Europe
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a campaign event in Bnei Brak, Israel, on Oct. 29.Source: Getty Images Europe

Unlike in other countries holding elections, the economy has taken a back seat in Israel’s campaign, with positive growth, inflation well below the US and Europe, and a budget surplus in the year to September, due in large part to its high-tech sector. But many Israelis continue to struggle with the sky-high cost of living, which remains among the steepest in the OECD. 

A coalition of parties called Religious Zionism, which includes Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power, surged to third place in final polls, putting it on track to win as many as 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset, behind Netanyahu’s Likud and incumbent Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. The muted nature of the campaign has underscored political fatigue as Israelis approach a fifth round of elections in three-and-a-half years. 

But voter apathy doesn’t mean the election will be without consequences. Should Netanyahu emerge victorious on Nov. 1, a political marriage with the far right is likely to spell more trouble for Palestinians and Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up more than 20% of the population -- and deepen friction with allies and foes alike.


Ben-Gvir’s first foray into politics came as a teenager, when he led the youth wing of the Kach party, a far-right group that was later banned from politics and designated as a terrorist organization by Israel and the US. 

“There’s a realistic concern that, among some quarters of support for Israel, incorporating Ben-Gvir in the new government could be a deal-breaker that fundamentally alters their calculus,” said Shalom Lipner, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a 26-year veteran of the Israeli prime minister’s office.  

Ben-Gvir entered the Israeli Knesset last year, leading a party that has previously advocated for the deportation of Arab extremists, and for Jewish sovereignty to be extended to the occupied Palestinian territories and the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif. 

In an interview, Ben-Gvir’s foreign media adviser, Yishai Fleisher, said that Arabs convicted of terror offenses, and those who espouse terrorism “should either be jailed or find their way to a different place.” He criticized the current administration’s handling of unrest, which has led to the deaths of more than 130 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers this year. 

Fleisher added that the party supports dismantling the “corrupt” and “jihadist” Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized governing authority over many Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. 

Law and Order

Ben-Gvir’s law-and-order proposals, which include giving soldiers immunity from prosecution when confronting “terrorists,” have won him supporters across the right wing of Israeli politics, and from some in Israel’s ultra-orthodox community. They’ve also drawn international condemnation.

Officials in the Biden administration reportedly expressed concern to Israeli President Isaac Herzog about the possible inclusion of far-right figures in the next administration. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey senator who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Netanyahu that including “extremists” such as Ben-Gvir in his government could harm U.S.-Israel relations, according to Axios reports earlier this month. 

“Foreign politicians and foreign actors should give Israel and Israelis the respect to determine their course for the future,” Fleisher said.

Menendez, Lapid and Netanyahu declined to be interviewed for this story. 

Unprecedented Power

After being barred from serving in the military, Ben-Gvir trained as a lawyer, and went on to make a name defending Jews accused of attacks against Palestinians. In 2007, he was convicted of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism.

With the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs running even in polls, Ben-Gvir’s hand is likely to be strengthened in negotiations to form a coalition, according to political analysts. The Religious Zionism coalition is expected to demand a number of cabinet seats in exchange for its support. 

“If Netanyahu wins and forms a government, Ben-Gvir will have a marginal vote that Netanyahu will depend on, and this will give him unprecedented power,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. 

Netanyahu’s Likud has sought to play down concerns about the power of the far right in any coalition. 

“Ben-Gvir will be a minister in our government, will be a partner, but he will not be the one that leads the dance,” said Boaz Bismuth, a former Israeli ambassador and a candidate for Likud. 

Arab Votes

At a recent rally in southern Tel Aviv, Ben-Gvir received a raucous welcome from supporters when he arrived, flanked by heavy security.

“This is our country,” he said, pledging to restore security and “Jewish pride” to Shapira, a working-class neighborhood that’s seen an influx of non-Jewish migrants.

Meanwhile Lapid, Netanyahu’s main opponent, is struggling to convince Arab voters they have an interest in turning up to vote, after his unlikely alliance with Arab parties collapsed, said Amal Jamal, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. 

“Probably the most important factor of this election is Arab turnout,” said Plesner, adding that Netanyahu has a strong personal incentive get back to power. “He’s fighting for his life and for his freedom out of jail, and this is obviously the strongest influence on his decision making.” 

--With assistance from and .

More stories like this are available on

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.