Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan of the liberal Meretz party on Thursday morning said Jewish settlers residing in an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank were “subhuman,” sparking a severe backlash, including calls for his dismissal.
“People who settle in an area that was legally evacuated — nobody should be there. When I was commander of the Judea and Samaria Division I didn’t let anyone return to settle there,” Golan told the Knesset Channel, referring to the outpost of Homesh, which was evacuated in 2005, then was partially resettled, and in recent weeks became a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.
“These people who come to settle there, riot in the [adjacent Palestinian] village of Burqa, smash gravestones — they are carrying out a pogrom. We, the Jewish people, who suffered pogroms throughout history, are now carrying out pogroms on others?” he exclaimed.
“These aren’t people; they are subhuman, despicable people… they should not get any support and they should be removed by force from there,” Golan said.
Hitting back, Prime Minister Bennett tweeted that Golan’s remarks are “shocking, generalizing and a borderline blood libel.”
But Golan doubled down. “In my remarks, I referred to the destroyers of graves, attackers of innocents, destroyers of property… How should [one] treat such people? How should [one] call such people? It’s time to tell the truth — this is not our Judaism,” he tweeted.
Three Palestinians were reportedly hurt on Monday during the most recent altercation between Burqa residents and settlers, after troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the Palestinian locals.
מתנחלים שהגיעו ממאחז חומש תקפו בבורקה וגרמו נזק לבתי תושבים ולבית הקברות המקומי; חיילים שהגיעו לאזור ירו כדורי גומי וגז מדמיע לכיוון הפלסטינים; 3 תושבי בורקה נפצעו. pic.twitter.com/v3zRFhHa4O
— Lior Amihai (@lioramihai) January 3, 2022
Golan’s remarks were criticized by many other lawmakers, both in the right-wing and left-wing camps of the diverse coalition, as well as in right-wing opposition parties.
“The settlers in Judea and Samaria are not ‘subhuman,’ as deputy minister Yair Golan, a member of the Bennett government, called them today. The settlers are pioneering Zionists who settle the land of our ancestors,” opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said in a social media post.
“After this shameful statement, taken directly from Nazi terminology against the Jewish people, Bennett must fire Yair Golan today,” Netanyahu said. (Technically, under the coalition agreement, only Foreign Minister Yair Lapid can fire Golan, not Bennett.)
Lapid said in a tweet that he “condemns all abusive discourse that drags Israeli society into polarizing and destructive extremism,” and that he “expects coalition members to set a personal example of respectful and fair discourse even toward those who think differently from us.”
“Our ability to live here together depends on how we talk about the things we disagree on,” he added.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Golan’s remarks were “a grave, false, and generalizing outburst against the settlers.”
“His remarks (‘pogroms’) are fuel for a campaign by Israel haters about ‘settler violence.’ All violence must be condemned and dealt with, but Golan himself knows that the settlers in Judea and Samaria have been for years, and still are, the targets of violence directed at them,” Sa’ar tweeted.
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, head of the dovish Labor party, said Golan should apologize. “Words have power. We are the first to know this, so the use of the words ‘subhuman’ is irresponsible and requires an apology,” she wrote in a tweet.
“Even when serious acts are condemned, it should be done in with respectful and inclusive discourse, regardless of the depth of the ideological difference,” Michaeli added.
Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan also tweeted in response to Golan’s statement, saying, “‘Subhuman’ is an expression from the lexicon of Nazi racism, which we will not give a place to in Israeli discourse, particularly from a member of the government.”
The uptick in violence in the area started with a terror attack last month that killed Yehudah Dimentman, a student at a yeshiva, or religious school, that the IDF has allowed to operate illegally for over 15 years at Homesh.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he “strongly condemns” Golan’s remarks, adding that “as someone who visited the Dimentman family and met some of the people in Homesh, I state that while one must abide by the law, these are valued people who love the country and the state no less than anyone else.”
Two weeks ago, as part of an apparent effort to diminish tensions in the area, security forces were dispatched to the outpost, which was erected on private Palestinian land, and took down at least six makeshift buildings, including one used by the yeshiva’s students for lodging and another two by families who recently moved to the hilltop in a move of solidarity meant to expand Jewish presence in the area. The yeshiva itself remained standing.
Settler leaders blasted the demolitions, calling them a “prize for terror,” and arguing that the response to the shooting should be to legalize the outpost at Homesh, which was a fully fledged settlement before it was evacuated in 2005 as part of the Gaza disengagement plan.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also came under heavy fire recently for discussing rising violence by West Bank settlers against Palestinians with a senior American diplomat, following a noted rise in violent attacks by Israeli extremists against Palestinians compared to previous years.
In November, Gantz held a high-level meeting with top representatives of the security forces to discuss the increase, calling for the military to intervene before someone was killed.
Golan, a former IDF deputy chief of staff, has previously been criticized for controversial remarks, including a 2016 speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day, during which he said he discerned “processes” in Israel reminiscent of those that preceded the Holocaust in Europe.
In a strongly worded speech uncommon for a military commander, Golan warned against trends of growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society. He called for a “thorough consideration” of how society treats the disadvantaged and “the other” in its midst.
“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe…70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” Golan said.
He was excoriated at the time by many on the right.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.