US slams Israeli minister's 'racist' remark as Netanyahu backs him

AFP , Ahram Online , Saturday 26 Aug 2023

The US slammed recent comments by Israeli Minister of Public Security Itamar Ben Gvir prioritizing settlers' rights over Palestinians' in the occupied West Bank, characterizing them as "inflammatory" and "racist," even as Israeli PM Netanyahu threw his weight behind the embattled minister.

Ben Gvir
Israel s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, center, arrives to the site of a rockslide that took place in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, on the western shore of the Dead Sea, a popular tourist site in Israel, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. Israeli medics say an avalanche of rocks tumbled down a hillside in Israel near the Dead Sea, injuring at least seven people, including children. AP


Ben Gvir had sparked backlash, including from supermodel Bella Hadid, when he defended restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and settlers' rights to free movement in a Wednesday interview.

"My right, and that of my wife and children, to travel on the roads of Judea and Samaria, is more important than the freedom of movement of Arabs," he told state television, using Israel's term for the occupied West Bank.

He then addressed Mohammad Magadli, an Arab Israeli journalist in the studio, saying: "Sorry Mohammad, but this is the reality, that's the truth. My right for life comes before their right to movement."

His remarks sparked a row with American supermodel Hadid, whose father is Palestinian reposting the video on Instagram where she has 60 million followers, adding the comment: "In no place, no time… should one life be more valuable than another's, prompting the firebrand minister to take to X, formerly Twitter, and describe her as an "Israel hater".

Ben Gvir is an outspoken champion of the Israeli settlers who live in West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. Excluding occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank is home to nearly three million Palestinians and around 490,000 Israeli settlers.

Netanyahu on Friday threw his weight behind Ben Gvir, saying: "Israel allows maximum freedom of movement for both Israelis and Palestinians.

"Unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists take advantage of this freedom of movement to murder Israeli women, children and families," a statement from his office said.

In an attempt to limit the diplomatic damage, the statement said recent attacks have resulted in "special security measures in these areas".

A US state department spokesman earlier slamed the far-right minister comments saying: "We strongly condemn Israeli minister Ben Gvir's inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents in the West Bank."

"We condemn all racist rhetoric; as such messages are particularly damaging when amplified by those in leadership positions and are incongruent with advancing respect for human rights for all."

The EU also "strongly condemned" Ben Gvir's comments, saying "the values of democracy and respect for human rights stand central to the EU-Israel partnership, including as regards the people living under occupation in the Palestinian territory".

Ben Gvir's remarks also drew sharp criticism from the Palestinian Authority, which described them as "racist and heinous" and labelled the minister a "fascist".

The extremist minister's political background lies in Kahanism - a violently racist movement that supports the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands.

He was charged more than 50 times in his youth with incitement to violence or hate speech and was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism. 

The latest exchange comes amid a surge in violence in the West Bank, which has seen near-daily army raids and settler violence and attacks against Palestinians, as well as response to such attacks from Palestinians.

At least 219 Palestinians have been killed by Israel so far this year.

The violence has also claimed the lives of 31 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian, according to an AFP tally.

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