MK Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party, on Wednesday warned he would “make sure” a prominent Arab lawmaker and other Muslims would not remain in Israel if they did not recognize that the land belongs to the Jews.
MK Ahmad Tibi, a senior member of the Joint List, a predominantly Arab Israeli party, responded by calling Smotrich a racist in German.
The exchange between the two came as the position of Arab parties in Israeli politics has become a key issue in coalition negotiations following last month’s inconclusive elections.
A bloc of parties led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seeking to retain his office, currently does not have a parliamentary majority and may need outside support from Ra’am, an Islamist conservative party. Smotrich’s Religious Zionism, an alliance of far-right parties that includes the extremist Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties, is part of Netanyahu’s bloc, but Smotrich has vowed he will not join any coalition that relies on even outside backing from Arab parties, which his party accuses of being anti-Zionist and of backing Palestinian terrorism.
Earlier in the day, Tibi gave an interview with Radio 103FM, during which he was asked his opinion on remarks made by the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, an outspoken, controversial, religious Zionist figure, who in 2019 said that “the land [of Israel] vomits out the Arabs.”
Tibi called Eliyahu “racist garbage,” and added, “I despise him. A rabbi is not supposed to talk like that. And if a sheik talks like that about Jews then he should also be condemned.”
Rising to defend Eliyahu, Smotrich tweeted that “a true Muslim needs to know that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and over time Arabs like you who don’t recognize that will not remain here. Rabbi Shmuel and his multitude of followers, us among them, will make sure of that.”
Tibi tweeted back that “it makes me happy that you won’t be a minister without relying on Arabs.”
Then, switching to German, he wrote “Du bist ein Rassist [You are a racist].”
In response, Smotrich tweeted that he will yet be a minister without the support of “terror supporters and embracers of terrorists like you.”
The Knesset is divided between two blocs, one in favor of Netanyahu remaining in power and another seeking to oust him.
Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties has only 52 seats so far but is pressing to draw in the right-wing Yamina party, led by Naftali Bennett — which would still only give him 59 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Whereas the Joint List will not consider backing Netanyahu’s bloc, fellow Arab party Ra’am, led by MK Mansour Abbas, has been courted by Netanyahu’s Likud party to possibly give the outside support he needs to make it over the 61 majority mark.
However, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism, which holds seven seats, has vetoed Ra’am.
President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday tasked Netanyahu with the first shot at forming a coalition. Netanyahu has 28 days to complete the task, with a possible two-week extension, before Rivlin can name another lawmaker to have a try.