Education Minister Naftali Bennett doubled down Wednesday on his criticism of figures in the Religious Zionist community for their condemnation of the Shin Bet security service over accusations of torture during the interrogation of suspects in the fatal Duma firebombing.
Speaking at a conference of the right-wing weekly B’sheva, the Jewish Home party leader reiterated comments he made a day earlier denouncing right-wing extremists as “terrorists,” and said it was hypocritical to oppose interrogation methods considered acceptable against Palestinians.
“What was done to the Duma detainees is for certain not more, and probably less, than what is done regularly to Palestinian terror suspects,” he said.
“Only those who oppose the use of far-reaching tools against Palestinian terror — and there are some people like that — have a moral right to oppose the use of the same tools against Jewish terror.”
Much of the voter base for Bennett’s Jewish Home party comes from the Religious Zionist community and settler movement, members of whom have rallied in recent days in defense of Jewish extremists rounded up as part of an investigation into the deadly July attack, amid allegations of torture.
The attack in Duma on July 31 killed three members of a Palestinian family. Only one member of the Dawabsha family — Ahmed now 5 — survived the attack, and remains hospitalized in Israel. The 18-month-old baby Ali was killed on the night of the attack, while parents Riham and Sa’ad succumbed to their injuries in the succeeding weeks.
An unspecified number of Jewish suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism. Details of the investigation, and the identity of the suspects, have been withheld from publication by a court-imposed gag order.
On Tuesday, Itamar Ben Gvir, the legal representative of one of the suspects, told the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court on Monday that using torture, the Shin Bet coerced his client into confessing to something he did not do. Speaking to journalists after the hearing he said the suspect had been subjected to mental and physical torture including incidents of sexual harassment.
The accusation came after right-wing activists posted a clip Tuesday in which they simulated torture in the “dungeons of the Shin Bet” as they call it. One actor is shown hanging from his feet, being beaten all over his body.
“Over the past month the Shin Bet is torturing our friends systematically. Tortures that are taken from dark regimes. They put them in a cell with other inmates who are in fact Shin Bet employees and then they beat the person senseless,” a man in the video tells the camera.
Jewish Home’s number two, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, voiced criticism Tuesday of Shin Bet activity against Jewish extremists, according to Channel 2 News. Ariel reportedly wrote a WhatsApp message to party activists saying, “The Jewish Division of Shin Bet needs to be closed, and the sooner the better.”
The Jewish Division is the security service branch in charge of dealing with terror threats coming from the Jewish population.
Bennett said Wednesday that those involved in the Duma attack were part of a group that sought to destroy the State of Israel by violent means and had further attacks planned.
Quoting the “founding document” of the group the suspects belong to, he said they wanted to “take down the state institutions, its ability to control the people, and to build a new order in its place.”
The document he quoted was published by a group called “Revolt” led by controversial right-wing activist Meir Ettinger, who is currently being held under administrative detention.
Saying Duma was just “a means to an end,” Bennett hinted at a ticking time-bomb scenario that justified the use of “far-reaching” interrogation methods.
“The experience they are having is in order to prevent Duma 2 and 3,” he said.
Bennett told the audience, which included school principals, that the actions of those involved in the Duma attack were antithetical to the Religious Zionist community “which I am proud to lead.”
“In Duma they murdered a family in their sleep, in order to inflame the world against us, and to dismantle the foundations of the state,” he said. “This is the opposite of the essence of Religious Zionism that views Israel as the beginning of our redemption, which sends our sons to the IDF, to the development towns, to settle the land, to become educators, to leadership.”
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.