Israeli minister’s visit sparks controversy

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Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir meeting with Justice Minister Anna Koukkides-Procopiou in Limassol at the site of a devasting fire sparked a heated debate back home.

Ben-Gvir and Koukkides-Procopiou met at the coordination centre, where authorities coordinated efforts to put out a devasting wildfire that burned 9 square kilometres.

The story was covered by Israel Haaretz, state television and The Times of Israel, all noting that the Israeli minister has, at least, been snubbed by world politicians.

According to Israeli media, this was the first time the controversial lawmaker has sat down with a European Union country’s official since assuming office, as he has been treated as a persona non-grata in the international arena.

The Israeli minister, known for his ultra-right views, has been the focus of intense criticism at home and abroad over provocative actions and statements against Palestinians, Arab Israelis, left-wingers, and the international community.

In May, the EU Delegation to Israel cancelled a scheduled Europe Day reception in Tel Aviv, which Ben-Gvir was scheduled to address.

“Regrettably, this year we have decided to cancel the diplomatic reception, as we do not want to offer a platform to someone whose views contradict the values the European Union stands for,” the EU said in a statement at the time.

Justice Ministry sources told the Financial Mirror that the meeting was not related to the government’s policy on Israel-related issues but solely to the Israeli mission aiding in putting out the Limassol fire.

“He was only there as a representative of the Israeli government, sent in as he is currently on holiday in Paphos,” explained the source.

Since becoming the national security minister earlier last year, the politician has sparked numerous controversies, such as defending Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Ben-Gvir has also faced charges of hate speech against Arabs.

He was known to have a portrait in his living room of Israeli American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 others in Hebron in 1994.

As a lawyer, he is known for defending Jewish radicals and terrorists on trial in Israel.

Meanwhile, a group of Israeli citizens residing in Cyprus told the Financial Mirror they are uneasy with his welcome from the government and are organising a protest against Ben-Gvir on Thursday.

Israel has been torn in recent months over a judicial reform pushed by the government led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, with the streets of Tel Aviv playing host to massive demonstrations.

Last month, Israeli police clashed with crowds of protesters after parliament adopted a highly controversial law to limit the Supreme Court’s powers.

The measure – part of a big reform package – will prevent the court from overruling government actions it considers unreasonable.