Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday tacitly joined those criticizing the public security minister over remarks he made about violence by West Bank settlers.
Omer Barlev, who is responsible for police, drew rebukes from pro-settlement ministers and right-wing opposition lawmakers after saying he had discussed rising violence by West Bank settlers against Palestinians with a senior American diplomat.
“Settlers in Judea and Samaria have suffered violence and terror, daily, for decades,” Bennett tweeted, referring to the West Bank. “They are the defensive bulwark for all of us, and we must strengthen and support them, in words and actions.”
“There are marginal elements in every community, and they should be dealt with using all means, but we must not generalize about an entire community,” Bennett urged, without mentioning Barlev by name.
Barlev, a member of the center-left Labor party, met Monday with Victoria Nuland, the US undersecretary for political affairs. He tweeted that the two discussed “settler violence and how to reduce tensions in the area and strengthen the Palestinian Authority.”
His comment came after Nuland told him that the US State Department was keeping track of settler violence, according to the Haaretz daily. Barlev told Nuland his ministry and the Defense Ministry were working together to address the matter and said he was working to deploy more police in the West Bank.
Responding to Barlev, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked called him “confused.” Shaked is the No. 2 in Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party.
“The settlers are the salt of the earth,” she wrote on Twitter. “The violence that one needs to be shocked by is the dozens of cases of the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jews that occur every day, just because they are Jews, all with the encouragement and support of the Palestinian Authority.
“I recommend you talk about this violence with Mrs. Nuland,” Shaked added.
פגשתי היום את תת מזכירת המדינה של ארה"ב, הגברת ויקטוריה נולנד. תת מזכירת המדינה התעניינה, בין היתר, באלימות מתנחלים וכיצד ניתן להפחית את המתח באזור ולחזק את הרשות הפלסטינית. pic.twitter.com/M1XNdqHtZ2
— עמר בר-לב (@omerbarlev) December 13, 2021
Fellow Yamina Minister Matan Kahana called for Barlev to retract his comments.
“It’s sad to see a security man with many years of experience accept such a false and distorted narrative,” Kahana said, referring to Barlev’s military career. “The settlers in Judea and Samaria are not violent but pioneers.”
Settlements and Israel’s policies in the West Bank have been a frequent source of tensions in the coalition, which is made up of ideologically disparate factions ranging from the left-wing Meretz to Yamina and the Islamist Ra’am party.
Barlev also took flak from opposition figures for the remark, with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party accusing him of “slandering” Israel in the meeting with Nuland.
“The Bennett government continues to go off the rails,” Likud said in a tweet that was shared by Netanyahu.
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein quipped that Barlev did not bring up “the criminal violence of the other side” due to his excitement over the meeting.
“It’s not something serious, is it? Just the State of Israel’s image in the world,” he wrote on Twitter.
MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, said Barlev was “simply a bastard.”
“Hundreds of thousands of heroic settlers suffer terrorism daily and pay dearly in blood and you despicably spill their blood and take part in a false and antisemitic campaign that slanders them,” Smotrich tweeted.
On Tuesday morning, Barlev pushed back, saying his critics were having difficulty “looking in the mirror,” and that settler violence was becoming an issue on the international stage, with foreign governments taking an interest in it.
“I recommend that those who have difficulty [understanding this] drink a glass of water,” he said.
“I will continue to fight Palestinian terrorism as if there is no extremist settler violence, and extremist settler violence as if there is no Palestinian terrorism,” Barlev said.
The Combatants for Peace group, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence, condemned Bennett for his Tuesday comments, charging that the prime minister had given “full backing to depraved settler violence which has reached new heights under his watch.”
The group said, “Bennett gave a green light to the Wild West [atmosphere] in the territories and a shot in the arm to hilltop youth — the settler movement’s armed wing.”
Barlev’s initial remark and the subsequent pushback follow a noted rise in violent attacks by Israeli extremists against Palestinians compared to previous years. Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a high-level meeting with top representatives of the country’s security forces to discuss the increase, calling for the military to intervene before someone was killed.
The issue was also raised by the US ambassador the United Nations during a recent Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.