By Ramzy Baroud
By his own admission, Israel’s new Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, is a “fascist homophobe”. This declaration, which he made on January 16, should be enough to add to the violent nature of the new political combination created by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last December.
While 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 casual diplomacy.
In recent months, Smotrich has gained international fame, not because of his financial genius that could solve Israel’s financial problems as a result of the weakening of the country’s legal system. The man does not have the answers, or even an interest, in confronting Israel’s inherent socio-economic equality. None of this. Smotrich is popular mostly because of his racism.
In 2016, Smotrich made headlines when he suggested that Jewish and Palestinian women should be separated in maternity wards. His logic is as big as it was silly: “My wife is not really a racist, but after she gives birth she wants to relax and she doesn’t want those huge parties that are normal parties among the families of Arab women after childbirth.”
At that time, Smotrich was a member of Knesset, representing the Jewish Home party, before joining the right-wing Union of Parties, Yamina, the Jewish Home and Yamina, again, and, finally, his current Religious Zionist Party. This suggests that Smotrich, an illegal Jewish settler himself from Kedumim, near the West Bank occupied the city of Qalqiliya, found an ideological home in most of Israel’s current rightwing political platforms.
In right-wing parties in Israel, racism is an important prerequisite for political success. In fact, this is precisely how Itamar Ben-Gvir rose from being the youth leader of the extremist Kach party to becoming the country’s minister of national security. Now, the two characters, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, hold the keys to the fate of many Palestinian communities, and both are eager to expand illegal Jewish settlements, regardless of the illegality of such action, and the resulting bloodbath .
When hundreds of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers stormed the Palestinian village of Huwwara on February 26, burning down many houses, killing one Palestinian and injuring over 100 others, Smotrich, now a minister, had something to say. , about the violence. He protested, not against the pogrom against a peaceful Palestinian community, but because, in his opinion, the village should have been “destroyed” by the Israeli army, not by settlers.
Smotrich later explained his comments as “a slip of the tongue in a storm of emotions”, but such an indecisive statement was the result of a compromise, due to practical concerns about Smotrich’s travel access to various western countries. When the western mainstream media quickly overrode Smotrich’s outright call for genocide in Huwwara, the man reverted to his old racist language.
“There is no such thing as the Palestinians because there is no such thing as the Palestinian people,” Smotrich told an enthusiastic crowd of supporters on March 19, during a recent visit to France. “The Palestinian people are an invention that is less than 100 years old,” he said.
To make matters worse, Smotrich was speaking from a podium with a map of the so-called ‘Greater Israel’, which includes modern-day Jordan and other Arab lands. Three days later, the Jordanian Parliament voted in favor of a resolution recommending the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in Amman.
But where is Washington in the midst of this Israeli political chaos? Following Huwwara’s comments, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price referred to Smotrich’s comments as “disgusting” and called on Netanyahu to publicly disavow them. Of course, Netanyahu did not stay in Smotrich, and the US no longer challenged Israel. Even official Israeli calls for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians do not seem to disturb the ‘unbreakable bond’ between Washington and Tel Aviv.
But during the debate and fury over Smotrich’s comments, many of us, intentionally or otherwise, have ignored some basic facts about racism in Israel and the Zionist ideology he founded:
First of all, Smotrich is a high-ranking elected official and member of the most stable government in Israel for years. It is not an aberration. Its extremist ideology is the mainstream thinking in Israel’s “most righteous government in history”.
Second, Smotrich’s call for the destruction of Huwwara is not an alien position in Israel’s history of ethnic cleansing and “incremental genocide.” Apart from the destruction and depopulation 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 on top of Palestinian land, be it the ruins of an ethnically cleansed village, an orchard or a privately owned farm. Many Huwwaras had to be ‘destroyed’ to sustain this colonial regime.
Third, the map of the so-called “Greater Israel” is not a recent invention, neither by Smotrich, Ben-Gvir nor even Netanyahu himself. In fact, it is older than the state of Israel, as perceived by Revisionist Zionist groups, such as the Bether movement and the Irgun, which played a vital role in the establishment of Israel over the ruins of Palestine.
And, finally, the racist notion that there are no Palestinians is also an old trope, although it is functional in dehumanizing the Palestinians. It is directly linked to the old Zionist slogan that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a country”. Many derivatives of this racist colonial slogan were spoken by Israeli politicians over the years, the most famous of which was former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an interview with the Sunday Times in 1969. “There was no such thing as of something there and the Palestinians … they were not there,” she said.
Although the world may not have been as tolerant of that racism, Israel itself remained the same. Indeed, the generation of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir is only the logical offspring of that of David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. Therefore, it is not only hypocritical, but also useless to criticize Smotrich’s views, and continue to accept Israel and celebrate Zionism.
Smotrich is well aware of this, and so is his constant racism, his desire for the expansion of the colony, and his clear call for the destruction of all the communities of Palestine.
– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Dr is a Senior Non-Resident Research Fellow. Baroud at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). There is a website www.ramzybaroud.net