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Selective outrage in Palestine: the problem is not just Smotrich, but Zionism

March 28, 2023 at 9:30 am

People holding banners and Israeli flags gather to protest Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington D.C., United States. [Celal Güneş – Anadolu Agency]

By his own admission, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is a “fascist homophobe”. This declaration, which he made on 16 January, should be enough to illustrate and emphasise the violent nature of the latest political coalition concocted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December.

Although Smotrich is not the only politician in Netanyahu’s cabinet with a track record of violence, both real and rhetorical, he is a special case. Unlike his boss, Smotrich does not feel the need for doublespeak or occasional diplomatic words.

In recent months, he has become internationally famous, but not because of any financial talent that could resolve Israel’s impending financial crisis resulting of the weakening of the country’s legal system. He has no interest, never mind answers, in confronting Israel’s inherent socio-economic equality. None of this really matters, though, because Smotrich is popular mostly for his racism.

In 2016, he made headlines when he suggested that Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli women should be kept apart in maternity wards. His logic was as bigoted as it was foolish: “My wife really isn’t a racist, but after giving birth she wants to rest and doesn’t want those mass parties that are the norm among the families of Arab women after birth.”

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At that time, Smotrich was a Knesset member representing the Jewish Home party. He then joined the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Yamina, the Jewish Home and Yamina, again, and, latterly, his current Religious Zionist Party. This demonstrated that Smotrich, who is an illegal Jewish settler from Kedumim, near the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya, found his ideological home within most of Israel’s current extreme right-wing political groups.

In Israel’s right-wing parties, racism is an important prerequisite for political success. In fact, this is precisely how Itamar Ben-Gvir rose from being a youth leader of the extremist Kach party to becoming the country’s national security minister. Today, both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir hold the keys to the fate of many Palestinian communities, and both are eager to expand Jewish settlements, regardless of the illegality of such action, and the bloodbath resulting from it.

When hundreds of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers torched the Palestinian village of Huwara on 26 February, burning many homes and cars, killing one Palestinian and wounding over 100 others, Smotrich had something to say about the violence. He objected, not to the pogrom against a peaceful Palestinian community, but because, in his view, the village should have been “wiped out” by the Israeli army, not settlers.

Smotrich later explained his comment as a “slip of the tongue in a storm of emotions,” but such an unconvincing statement was a result of a compromise, due to practical concerns about his ability to travel to various western countries. When mainstream western media quickly overlooked his overt call for genocide in Huwara, the man returned to his usual, racist discourse.

There is “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people,” Smotrich preached to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters on 19 March during a visit to France. “The Palestinian people is an invention that is less than 100 years old,” he added.

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To make matters worse, he was speaking from a podium that featured a map of so-called “Greater Israel”, the Zionist objective which includes modern-day Jordan and other Arab land. Three days later, the Jordanian Parliament voted to recommend the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Amman.

But where is Washington amid this political chaos in its client state? Following Smotrich’s Huwara comments, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price referred to them as “repugnant” and called on Netanyahu to publicly disavow them. Of course, Netanyahu neither reined Smotrich in, nor faced any further challenge from the US. Not even official Israeli calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians seem to have any impact on the “unbreakable bond” between Washington and Tel Aviv.

Throughout the discussion and rage over Smotrich’s comments, however, many have wittingly or otherwise ignored some fundamental facts about racism in Israel and its founding Zionist ideology. For example, Smotrich is a senior elected official and a member of the most stable government in Israel in years. He is not an aberration. His extremist ideology is now the mainstream thinking in Israel’s “most right-wing government in history”.

Moreover, his call for the destruction of Huwara was not an alien position in Israel’s history of ethnic cleansing and “incremental genocide”. Aside from the depopulation and destruction of over 500 villages and towns in historic Palestine during the Nakba of 1947-48, Israel’s colonial expansion in the Occupied Territory is a continuation of the same violent legacy. Every illegal Israeli Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem stands atop Palestinian land, be it the ruins of an ethnically cleansed village, an orchard or a privately-owned farm. Numerous Huwaras have had to be “wiped out” for this settler-colonial regime to be sustained.

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What’s more, the “Greater Israel” map is not a recent invention, neither by Smotrich, Ben-Gvir nor even by Netanyahu himself. In fact, it is older than the state of Israel, as it was adopted by Zionist Revisionist groups, such as the Betar movement and the terrorist Irgun, which played a critical role in the establishment of Israel on the ruins of Palestine.

Finally, the racist notion that Palestinians do not exist, although functional in terms of dehumanising the people of Palestine, is also an old trope. It is linked directly to the old Zionist slogan that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. Many derivatives of this racist colonial slogan have been uttered by Israeli politicians over the years, the most famous of which was said by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an interview with the Sunday Times in 1969. “There were no such thing as Palestinians… They did not exist,” she told the British newspaper.

Although the world has grown less tolerant of such open racism, Israel itself has remained the same. Indeed, the Smotrich and Ben-Gvir generation is the logical heir to David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. As such, selective outrage in Palestine which sees some condemn Smotrich and his comments but continue to embrace Israel and celebrate Zionism is not only hypocritical, but also useless. Smotrich knows this very well, hence his continued racism, desire for colonial expansion and open call for the destruction of entire Palestinian communities.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.