Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claimed Monday that “there are 2 million Nazis” in the West Bank, referring to recent opinion polls indicating that most Palestinians in that territory support Hamas’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel.
Israeli officials have equated the ideology behind the atrocities committed during the Hamas onslaught — in which 1,200 people were brutally murdered, most of them civilians, and over 240 were kidnapped to Gaza, triggering the ongoing war — with the worldview that brought about the systematic mass murder of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Answering a question Monday by The Times of Israel about budget changes allocating NIS 390 million ($105 million) for beefing up security and security infrastructure in the West Bank, the far-right Smotrich said: “There are 2 million Nazis in Judea and Samaria, who hate us exactly as do the Nazis of Hamas-ISIS in Gaza.” He was using the biblical term for the West Bank commonly used in Israel.
Smotrich was apparently referring to two surveys from this month that found that some two-thirds of West Bank Palestinians support the October 7 atrocities. Around 3 million Palestinians are estimated to live in the West Bank.
Many Israeli officials have sought to draw a parallel between Hamas — which openly seeks Israel’s destruction and has vowed to repeat the October 7 massacres over and over to bring it about — and the Nazis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others have repeatedly called Hamas’s devastating onslaught the worst against Jews since the Holocaust. Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan last month pinned a yellow star to his chest, insisting he would wear it “with pride” as long as the UN Security Council did not condemn the Hamas assault.
But Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan last week rejected this rhetoric, saying the two events were fundamentally different.
Smotrich, who leads the Religious Zionism coalition party, has a history of making controversial remarks against Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, and others. Earlier this year he said Israel should “wipe out” the West Bank town of Huwara in response to a terror attack, but later walked this back.
In his Monday remarks to The Times of Israel, Smotrich also refuted a claim by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that the budget changes — which were approved later that day — would allocate money to the construction of new West Bank settlements.
“In the budget that’s being approved today, there is no funding for new construction in Judea and Samaria,” Smotrich said. Rather, “there is funding for security needs,” among them checkpoints and civilian security squads and the weapons and equipment those teams would need.
Separately on Monday, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Netanyahu has met with at least 10 backbenchers in his Likud party over the past week in an effort to ensure their continued support, as the ruling party — and the premier himself — drops further and further in the polls since the war.
“I am the only one who will prevent a Palestinian state in Gaza and [the West Bank] after the war,” Kan quoted Netanyahu as having told the lawmakers.
The stance clashes directly with the policy of US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has sought to revive talk of a two-state solution in order to maintain the support of the Arab world, as Biden continues to offer robust backing of Israel during its ongoing war aimed at destroying Hamas and securing the release of the hostages the terror group seized on October 7.
Netanyahu reportedly also told the Likud lawmakers that the Biden administration had not wanted Israel to launch a ground incursion in Gaza and had not wanted the IDF to enter Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, where extensive signs of Hamas presence were found. Netanyahu reportedly boasted about having gone against the US wishes in both of those cases.
Two US officials speaking with The Times of Israel made no such indication that the US opposed Israel’s operations in Gaza, as Netanyahu suggested. Rather, Washington had pushed for the IDF to ensure the protection of civilians, the officials said, noting that they support expanding the ground operation into southern Gaza in principle, so long as civilians are offered protection.
“I have known Biden for more than 40 years, and know how to speak to the American public,” Kan quoted Netanyahu as having told the Likud backbenchers in individual meetings.
One of Netanyahu’s sit-downs was with Likud MK David Bitan, who urged the prime minister to avoid extravagant declarations that have come back to haunt him. Netanyahu had initially declared that Israel would not allow any fuel into Gaza before walking that pledge back earlier this month.
Kan reported that Netanyahu made clear to his faction members that he does not plan to leave office after the war, even though opinion polls have consistently predicted since the war began that had elections been held at this time, Netanyahu’s party would crash and his current coalition would plummet from 64 Knesset seats to 42 and be ousted from power.