Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul stirred controversy on Saturday for the second time in three days by insisting that Palestinians who attack soldiers, as opposed to civilians, should not be considered terrorists.
During a cultural event in the northern city of Acre, Israeli-Arab MK Bahloul said Israeli soldiers were “a symbol of the occupation” for Palestinians and asked why Jewish groups fighting British soldiers during the Mandate area could be considered as fighting for their freedom while Palestinians could not.
“What can a Palestinian, suffocating under the yoke of occupation for 49 years, do in order regain his freedom? The soldiers are, for him, a symbol of the occupation. Before 1948 there was the British Mandate here. Etzel, Lehi and the other Jewish organizations went out to the street to fight British soldiers and build your state, which is an amazing state. Why are the Palestinians not allowed to do so?” the MK, a former sports broadcaster and journalist, asked.
On Thursday, Bahloul said the Palestinian assailants who stabbed a soldier in Hebron last month should not be considered terrorists because the attack was on an IDF target. The Hebron incident made international headlines and sparked a national debate after a video emerged of an IDF soldier shooting one of the attackers — who was injured and on the ground — in the head. The shooting occurred several minutes after the attack ended. The other assailant was killed earlier during the attack.
The soldier, whose identity is under a gag order, now faces manslaughter charges, and is being held on an IDF base.
Likud MK Avi Dichter, who was Bahloul’s guest at the Saturday cultural event, said Bahloul’s comments on the stabber not being a terrorist legitimize terrorism. “You wouldn’t dare say such a thing if you were a member of the Egyptian parliament or in Ramallah,” charged Dichter, sitting on stage alongside Bahloul. It was “dangerous” to clam that an attack, say, “in which a soldier is slashed in the central station in Afula when he is waiting to board a bus, is not a terror attack,” said Dichter.
The Zionist Union sought to distance itself from Bahloul’s comments, saying the remarks were not representative of the party’s platform.
Senior MK Eitan Cabel said Saturday “There is no place for Bahloul in Labor.” Cabel, a former secretary-general of the party and the current head of the Knesset Economics Committee, told a cultural event in Yokne’am: “I would like to say that he made a slip of the tongue, but to my regret this is apparently his opinion. He knew that remarks of this nature would harm the Zionist Union faction, which adds insult to injury,” Cabel said.
Labor is the greater partner in the Zionist Union, which was formed when Labor united with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party ahead of the March 2015 Knesset elections.
Party leader Isaac Herzog wrote Thursday on Twitter that he had told Bahloul he “rejects and strongly condemns his statements, and that the position of the Zionist Union is a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist.”
The party itself said that the “terrorist from Hebron was like any other terrorist” and that Bahloul’s comments “did not reflect or represent the position of the party.”
“We are in the midst of a wave of terror and the government should start acting against this wave productively,” the statement read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media to harshly criticize the lawmaker on Thursday, calling his comments “shameful” in a Hebrew post on Facebook.
“IDF soldiers protect us with their bodies from bloodthirsty murderers. I expect all Israeli citizens, and members of Knesset in particular, to give them their full support,” the prime minister wrote.
In his comments Thursday to Army Radio, Bahloul said the “word ‘terrorist’ has become all-inclusive,” and that every Palestinian was now suspected of being a potential terrorist.
“All those who struggle for their freedom and independence are considered terrorists by Israelis,” he said.
The MK drew a distinction between Palestinians who attack civilians and those who attack soldiers. “I agree that a person who takes the lives of members of a whole family is a terrorist. They are terrorists and murderers who deserve punishment,” Bahloul said.