Far-right MK: Bedouin birthrate like a ‘bomb’ that must be defused

Bezalel Smotrich claims Bedouin population in Negev doubling every 12 years, calls to ‘Westernize’ it; Arab MK calls him a racist

MK Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)
MK Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

A far-right lawmaker on Thursday likened the birthrate among Bedouin women in the Negev desert to a “bomb” that Israel needs to defuse.

Bezalel Smotrich, a former transportation minister, made the remark during a tour of the Negev with fellow members of the national-religious opposition Yamina party.

According to Smotrich, there are some 200,000 Bedouin in the Negev, whom he claimed “double themselves every 12 years” due to a high birthrates.

“This is the type of of bomb where if we don’t neutralize [the explosive] mechanism, it will explode much harder on us,” he was quoted as saying by the Haaretz daily.

“The more Western you make them, the more the birthrate will come down,” Smotrich added, saying the Bedouin population should be encouraged to live in towns, get formal educations and join the workforce.

He said his goal was “to maintain the Jewish majority, not just in Israel but in the Negev.

“That’s the vision of [David] Ben-Gurion, not of Yamina,” he said, referring to Israel’s founding father, who strongly advocated development of the area.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks to reporters during a tour of the Negev desert on June 11, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

An invitation from Yamina for the tour said it was meant to focus on promoting awareness of the Negev, of crime, of the Tzeelim army base “and [of] the takeover of state lands.”

The tour came after officers at Tzeelim were ambushed last week while trying to pursue weapons thieves. The incident drew attention to the issue of crime and what some complain is revolving-door justice against the perpetrators, often local Bedouin.

“People trying to hike in the Negev can’t leave their car for 10 minutes without returning to a shattered vehicle,” Smotrich said of thefts in the area.

His remarks were condemned by a number of Arab lawmakers.

“Smotrich is desperate for attention. I demand they issue a restraining order against him for gas stations, in case he repeats the mistakes of the past,” MK Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Joint List party, wrote on Twitter.

Odeh was referring to Smotrich’s arrest ahead of the 2005 Gaza disengagement by the Shin Bet security service. Smotrich was held on suspicion of planning to block major roads and for stockpiling gasoline to allegedly damage infrastructure in a bid to prevent the withdrawal, but was released without charge.

MK Heba Yazbak at a press conference in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Joint List MK Heba Yazbak called Smotrich a “racist” who she said never missed a chance to incite against Arabs.

“It’s not the birthrates that should bother Smotrich but rather the desire of [Arab] society to get rid of the national supremacy policy he represents,” she tweeted.

Smotrich, who first entered the Knesset in 2015, has a history of racially tinged remarks, including calling for segregated maternity wards and saying “illiterate” Arabs were taking the places of others at Israeli universities.

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