Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan backtracked from remarks earlier Thursday branding Jewish settlers residing in an illegal West Bank outpost as “subhuman,” but stood by his criticism of the group.
Golan’s comments against settlers illegally operating a yeshiva at the wildcat hamlet of Homesh sparked a significant outcry from across the political spectrum throughout the day, with some political allies reportedly accusing him of entrenching divisions.
“I regret the remark, which may have included a problematic phrase. It was said out of anger and that can happen during an interview,” Golan told Channel 12 on Thursday evening. “I could have used a better expression, such as ‘despicable thugs’.”
The deputy minister stressed that he stood behind the essence of his argument against the actions of the Homesh settlers.
“The problem isn’t my remarks. It is a gang that systematically and consistently harms innocents, property, IDF soldiers and policemen and desecrates graves,” Golan said.
“I have fought Palestinian terror my whole life. I don’t need to be taught what it is, but I think the danger from within is greater than the dangers from outside. We Jews in Israel must uproot this evil,” said the deputy minister, who also once served as the IDF’s deputy chief of staff and has a history of speaking out against right-wing extremism.
The saga began earlier Thursday when Golan told the Knesset Channel that people attempting to settle Homesh “riot in the [adjacent Palestinian] village of Burqa, smash gravestones — they are carrying out a pogrom.”
“These aren’t people; they are subhuman, despicable people… they should not get any support and they should be removed by force from there,” said Golan, from the left-wing Meretz party.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked both harshly criticized Golan, along with other members of the government. The two are top lawmakers from the Yamina party, which draws much of its political support from the settlement movement.
Bennett tweeted that Golan’s remarks were “shocking, generalizing and a borderline blood libel,” and Shaked called the comments “disgraceful,” insisting that “the residents of Homesh are pioneers — pioneers and lovers of the land. The yeshiva in Homesh spreads Torah and light, which expels some of this darkness.”
Golan told Channel 12 he “regrets” their criticism, saying he supports the current diverse government and has good relations with all its parties, including the right-wing ones.
But Golan also declined to take back past comments he made against Bennett and Shaked, whom he has called “fascist,” saying: “I am not ignoring anyone’s past, but I’m looking toward the future and I know what the alternatives are. This government is the best alternative for Israel. The other option is a corrupt leadership that cooperates with the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox.”
An unnamed government source told Channel 12 that Golan’s comments were creating divisions in an already fractious coalition.
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. Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu called on Bennett to fire Golan.
Among Golan’s allies to speak out was Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who told Channel 13 news that Golan’s comments were “unfortunate and harsh” and that they should not have been made.
“We have an obligation to evacuate an illegal outpost, that’s the law, but between that and the deputy minister’s comments, there’s a huge gap,” he said.
Last month, Barlev came under similar fire for a readout of his meeting with a senior State Department official in which he said the two had discussed the importance of clamping down on settler violence. Right-wing critics claimed the phrase unfairly lumped all settlers with the actions of a violent minority.
The uptick in violence in the area around Homesh started with a terror attack last month that killed Yehuda Dimentman, a student at a yeshiva, or religious school, that the IDF has allowed to operate illegally for over 15 years at Homesh.
Israeli security forces have since twice arrived at the outpost to take down a number of makeshift buildings that went up illegally since the attack. However, they’ve allowed the yeshiva to remain standing.