Bezalel Smotrich

Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli finance minister, speaks during a rally with supporters in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on October 26, 2022.

(Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Official Condemned for Genocidal 'No Such Thing as Palestinians' Comment

The "only difference between Smotrich and 'liberals' is that he's open about Zionism being genocidal," said one observer.

While condemning the latest anti-Palestinian rights comments from far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, advocates on Monday said his remarks were "genocidal" and noted that Smotrich's violent rhetoric represents longstanding views by Zionists in Israel and elsewhere.

A day after Palestinian and Israeli leaders met in Egypt to discuss deescalating tensions ahead of Ramadan and Passover, Smotrich spoke at a memorial service in Paris where he claimed the Palestinian people are "an invention" dating back to the mid-20th century to fight Zionism.

"There's no such thing as Palestinians because there's no such thing as a Palestinian people," said Smotrich, standing at a podium that displayed a map of Israel, including the occupied West Bank and parts of Jordan. "There is no such thing as a Palestinian nation. There is no Palestinian history. There is no Palestinian language."

He also asked the crowd, "Do you know who are the Palestinians?" before claiming he himself is Palestinian because his grandparents were from Jerusalem and the northern Israeli town of Metula, despite the fact that his surname is derived from a Ukrainian town where his ancestors lived.

The Foreign Ministry of Jordan called Smotrich's comments "extremist, inflammatory, [and] racist" while Palestinian officials described them as "fascist."

Smotrich's comments came less than a month after he publicly said the State of Israel should "wipe out" the village of Hawara soon after the town was targeted by Israeli settlers in a deadly rampage. For those comments, Palestinian rights groups called on the United States government to bar Smotrich from the country.

The Biden administration granted Smotrich a visa despite officials' claims that they found his remarks "repugnant."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government this month granted Smotrich broad power over the occupied West Bank, including control over settlement planning.

Smotrich's comments also came as Netanyahu's coalition government signaled it is moving forward with parts of a planned overhaul of the country's judicial system, which critics say will make Israel's government even more authoritarian.

Violence in the occupied Palestinian territories has exploded in recent weeks, with 85 people killed by Israeli forces so far this year. Observers have raised alarm that violence could intensify as Jewish and Muslim people are expected to visit Jerusalem's Old City and holy sites to mark Passover and Ramadan in the coming weeks.

Benzion Sanders of the Israel-based anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence warned that Smotrich's comments on Sunday indicated not just his personal beliefs, but his "vision" as a government official and chair of the Religious Zionist Party.

"He's been talking about the vision to ethnically cleanse Palestinians for years," said Sanders.

While the open violence of Smotrich's rhetoric in recent weeks has been uncommon, said Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, his comments have been in line with Israel's long history of "expelling Palestinians from their land and denying their existence."

The "only difference between Smotrich and 'liberals' is that he's open about Zionism being genocidal," said Abunimah.

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