Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told an American periodical earlier this month that extremist violence is “a stain on Israel,” amid a noted rise in violent attacks by Israeli extremists against Palestinians.
Lapid’s made the comments in an interview earlier this month with The Atlantic that was published on Wednesday. Recent days have seen friction in the coalition after Public Security Minister Omer Barlev announced that he had discussed “settler violence” with a visiting American diplomat earlier this week, leading the coalition’s right-wing flank to censure him and defend the settler movement.
“Whoever attacks innocent people is a hooligan and a criminal and is going to be treated as such,” said Lapid, a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party. “There’s going to be zero tolerance toward this issue. I had a long conversation with our minister of defense, who is now creating his own task force to make sure this will be stopped.”
Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a high-level meeting with top representatives of the country’s security forces to discuss the problem, calling for the military to intervene before someone was killed. On Wednesday Gantz and Barlev agreed to draft hundreds of Israel Defense Forces soldiers into the police so that more police officers could be redirected to combating extremist settler violence.
In 2020, the Shin Bet registered 272 violent incidents in the West Bank; so far in 2021, the domestic security agency has recorded 397, with two weeks to go before year’s end.
Pro-Palestinian rights groups say assailants are rarely prosecuted, reporting that the vast majority of cases are closed without indictments.
The Atlantic said that Lapid emphasized that the issue of extremist violence was a priority for him.
“I refuse to discuss this as a political issue, because this flatters [the perpetrators],” Lapid said. “This is not a political stand. These are violent hooligans who are trying to give a political spin to the fact that they are just that. We’re speaking about criminals for whom ‘ideology’ and ‘politics’ is just an excuse.”
Lapid said he wished to emphasize that the violence should not be considered a religious issue, either, and cited an interview he read with Nobel Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai who was shot for campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan.
“She was asked about religious people who shot her in the head for religious reasons. And she said, ‘They were not shooting at me for religious reasons. These were people who wanted to shoot other people and used religion as an excuse,’” Lapid said. “This is the same. These are criminals and should be treated as such. There should be zero tolerance toward them and there will be zero tolerance toward them from the Israeli government.”
Lapid’s comments were published amid the fallout following Barlev’s comments. The government’s right wing has accused Barlev — a member of the center-left Labor party — of generalizing the actions of a few extremists to condemn an entire community. Some opposition lawmakers also criticized Barlev for the remarks.
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.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tacitly joined those criticizing the minister. “Settlers in Judea and Samaria have suffered violence and terror, daily, for decades,” Bennett tweeted. “They are the defensive bulwark for all of us, and we must strengthen and support them, in words and actions.”
Right-wing coalition lawmaker Nir Orbach said Wednesday he would stall legislation in the Knesset House Committee, which he heads, that is brought by members of the government who speak out against settlers in the West Bank.