Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich took to Twitter Tuesday to support the separation of Arab and Jewish mothers in maternity wards in Israeli hospitals.
“My wife is truly no racist, but after giving birth she wants to rest rather than have a hafla” — a mass feast often accompanied by music and dancing — “like the Arabs have after their births.”
The tweet followed a report on Israeli Radio saying that hospitals have been separating between Arab and Jewish mothers in maternity wards when the mothers request it.
After his tweet received negative replies, Smotrich went a step further, writing: “It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie down [in a bed] next to a woman who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby twenty years from now.”
He then added that “Arabs are my enemies and that’s why I don’t enjoy being next to them.”
His wife, Revital, later told Channel 10 that she had “kicked an Arab obstetrician out of the [delivery] room. I want Jewish hands to touch my baby, and I wasn’t comfortable lying in the same room with an Arab woman.”
“I refuse to have an Arab midwife, because for me giving birth is a Jewish and pure moment,” she said.
Lawmakers attacked Smotrich’s comments, including MK Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya of the Joint (Arab) List, who sent a letter to Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein imploring him to immediately suspend Smotrich.
“This kind of racist incitement affects an entire population, and as such cannot be ignored,” Yahya wrote in his official letter. “This man’s remarks directly harm the status of the Knesset. For this reason the Knesset speaker is asked to immediately relieve the transgressing MK from duty.”
Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union also came out swinging against Smotrich.
“Some of our best friends are Jews who celebrate with particularly pleasant haflas,” Hasson tweeted at him. “I suggest you erase [your] racist tweet.”
Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) also slammed Smotrich. “As far as you know, God created all beings equally human, not racist,” he said.
Ahmad Tibi tweeted cynically that “Smotrich’s spirit hovers over maternity wards throughout the country.”
Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) linked Smotrich’s comments to racism against the Mizrahi, or Sephardic, Jewish community in Israel.
“Beyond the overt justification for a racial segregation policy clearly similar to that which existed in the southern United States in the last century, Smotrich reveals something deeper here,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “This dangerous racist trend is not limited to the Arab culture, but extends to Sephardic Jews, Ethiopians, Russians, non-religious Jews and anyone who differs from the [political] right’s view.”
The leader of Smotrich’s Jewish Home party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also expressed his dissatisfaction, implying the comments were racist. He quoted a passage from the Mishnah, the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions, stating that “every human created in God’s image is favored,” and stressing in his own words that the text speaks of “every human, Jewish or Arab.”
He linked his tweet to a post of his from 2015, where he wrote of a Shabbat he spent alongside his father’s hospital bed.
“In a hospital there is no significance to race, religion, skin color, sexual orientation or political views,” he had written in that earlier post, naming “Khaled from Umm el-Fahm,” who lay in the bed adjacent to his father’s, as an example. “Everyone is human, and every human was born in God’s image.”
Minneapolis-based American public radio PRI published an article February 2016 underlining the drastic fall in deliveries at Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus Hadassah Hospital as an indicator of the detrimental effect the Israeli-Palestinian violence has had on coexistence.
The hospital’s dedication to coexistence, which earned it a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, has always been a principle of the highest value, according to the article.
Following the rise in violence since October 2015, the report said, both Jewish and Arab women have been reluctant to give birth in the mixed Arab-Jewish ward out of fear, and often opt instead to give birth in a more homogeneous environment.
All the hospitals cited in Tuesday’s Israel Radio report denied separating between Jews and Arabs in maternity wards, though some admitted that if they are asked to do so by a patient, they accommodate the request.
The Health Ministry also denied the existence of a segregation policy, saying that “no separation on a discriminatory basis is allowed in hospitals. Health Ministry guidelines state that no separation by population is to be made — not by race, ethnicity, country of origin or any other factor.”
Smotrich has a history of controversial statements. In August 2015 an Israeli NGO filed a complaint to the Knesset Ethics Committee against him over an interview in which he said gays control the Israeli media and the public agenda.
A month before, in an interview to the Knesset Channel, he offered to serve as an executioner should Israel pass a death sentence for Palestinian terrorists.
Five months earlier, during a discussion panel at a Ramat Gan high school, Smotrich boasted about being a “proud homophobe,” saying that gay people are welcome to be “abnormal” in their own homes, but shouldn’t “make demands of the state.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.