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Israel appoints far-right politician with a history of inciting racism as national security minister

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A provocative far-right politician in Israel with a history of hostility toward Palestinians has been tapped as the next minister of national security. The appointment's part of what's expected to be the most right-wing government in Israeli history, headed by the once and future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Itamar Ben-Gvir has risen in Israeli politics from a sidelined fringe of the extreme right to one of the country's most influential political figures. Just 15 years ago, he was convicted in Israeli court for inciting racism and supporting an anti-Arab movement which Israel has outlawed as a terrorist organization. Now, in the government Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to form in the coming weeks, Ben-Gvir will be a member of the security cabinet and hold a new expanded position as minister of national security. Ben-Gvir has called for tougher policing of Palestinians. Here's what he told reporters earlier this week after a rare bomb killed an Israeli teenager in Jerusalem.

ITAMAR BEN-GVIR: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said, "Wherever the terrorist is found, whether inside Israel or the West Bank, there should be a complete blockade of the town, going door to door looking for them." He said, "We must restore deterrence." Ben-Gvir has been promised a new expanded cabinet ministry overseeing not only the Israeli National Police, but also the paramilitary police force that conducts operations in the occupied West Bank. Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of giving Ben-Gvir a, quote, "private army" and warned of "security chaos." Noa Sattath of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel is concerned there will be increased violence with Ben-Gvir in charge of police.

NOA SATTATH: He is demanding unprecedented power over police policy. In that sense, we're also concerned about private Jewish militias that have in the past tried to take on the role of the police or collaborate with police. We are worried that this government, these violent extremist militias, will have a much more prominent role.

ESTRIN: There's been speculation that the U.S. may refuse to work with Ben-Gvir. NPR asked the White House, but it declined comment. Yesterday, an Israeli soldier in the West Bank was suspended from duty after he was filmed taunting a left-wing Israeli activist.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "Ben-Gvir is going to bring order here," the soldier told the left-wing activist. "You have lost." Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.