Far-right party leader: Arabs are citizens of Israel ‘for now at least’

Smotrich stands by position against a government propped up by Islamist Ra’am party, declaring any coalition reliant on ‘terror supporters’ is unacceptable

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on April 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich remarked Monday that Arabs are citizens of Israel, “for now at least.”

Smotrich’s far-right party is a part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing-religious bloc. His refusal to join a right-wing minority government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party is blocking one of Netanyahu’s few potential routes to forming a coalition.

“Some of our enemies are still sitting in the Knesset and there are those who think it is possible to rely on them for assembling a government. Open your eyes and remove this stupidity from the agenda,” Smotrich said in prepared remarks before the press at the start of the Religious Zionism faction meeting, apparently referring to Ra’am.

Further disparaging Israel’s Arab minority, Smotrich said, “Arabs are citizens of Israel, for now, at least. They have representatives, MKs, for now at least. In my opinion, by the way, representatives who are supporters of terrorism are not supposed to be here.”

Smotrich was referring to both the majority-Arab Joint List and Ra’am parties, whose members are not Zionist, but have spoken out against violence and against terror.

Bezalel Smotrich (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (File; courtesy)

The Religious Zionism chair said that there are instances when cooperating with Arab-majority parties is acceptable, but that forming a government that is reliant on them is beyond the pale.

He has instead called on New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar, who has vowed not to serve under Netanyahu, to put aside his differences with the premier and do exactly that so that a right-wing government can be formed.

Religious Zionism managed to make it into the Knesset with six seats thanks in no small part to Netanyahu, who orchestrated a merger between Smotrich’s far-right faction and the even more radical neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit and anti-LGBT Noam parties. The MKs on the party’s slate have a long history of remarks against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and LGBT individuals.

But last week, Smotrich suggested it could be time for the prime minister to go, over what he deemed to be a feeble response from Netanyahu to ongoing Israeli-Palestinian unrest in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu on Saturday called for “calm on all sides” after several nights of clashes and chaos in East Jerusalem.

Posting a video from Friday night of the beating of an Israeli man by a Palestinian mob, Smotrich tweeted: “Tell me, after countless terror incidents and lynchings by the Arab enemy in recent days, and after a rocket barrage from Gaza on southern communities, did Netanyahu seriously call this evening for ‘calming the spirits on all sides???’

“Maybe it really is time to replace him.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response: “After the prime minister and Likud contributed three seats to Religious Zionism and reserved them another seat [on Likud’s slate], and since Smotrich is not a party to security assessments, it would be best for him to show humility and gratitude and not lash out at the prime minister.”

On Sunday morning, extremist Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit faction, told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu’s statement was a “disgrace.”

“I don’t want to oust Netanyahu, I want to form a government with him,” Ben Gvir said when asked about Smotrich’s comment. “On the other hand, his remarks were uncalled for, there is no equivalence. They are lynching Jews, harming Jews and Netanyahu is staying silent — in my view, that’s a disgrace.

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