Netanyahu Defends His Security Minister for Comments That Drew a Rebuke From American State Department

‘Israel allows maximum freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria for both Israelis and Palestinians,’ prime minister declares.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Bella Hadid attends the God's Love We Deliver 16th annual Golden Heart Awards, October 17, 2022, at New York. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Prime Minister Netanyahu has entered a heated uproar that began with fiery remarks by Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, in a televised interview about Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria.

The contretemps erupted in an interview earlier this week with Israel’s Channel 12 following two deadly Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the territory, Mr. Ben-Gvir argued that his right to freedom of movement as a Jewish settler outweighs the same right for Palestinian Arabs.

“My right, the right of my wife and my children to move around Judea and Samaria, is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs,” Mr. Ben-Gvir said on TV Wednesday, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “The right to life comes before freedom of movement.”

Addressing an Israeli-Arab television host who was in the studio, Mohammad Magadli, Mr. Ben-Gvir added: “Sorry, Mohammad. But that’s the reality.” His statement drew widespread criticism from commentators who have promoted the fallacy that Israel  was turning into an apartheid system, and the catchphrase “Sorry, Mohammad” became meme fodder for social media as critics posted it alongside videos of Israeli violence against Palestinians.

Bella Hadid, a world-famous model whose father is Palestinian, had shared an excerpt from Mr. Ben-Gvir’s interview with her 59.5 million followers on Instagram on Thursday, writing: “In no place, no time, especially in 2023 should one life be more valuable than another’s. Especially simply because of their ethnicity, culture or pure hatred.”

That was a mis-characterization of what Mr. Gvir had said. The 26-year-old Ms. Hadid is American-born but describes herself on her Instagram profile page as “Palestinian and Dutch.” 

“I invite you to Kiryat Arba, to see how we live here, how every day, Jews who have done nothing wrong to anyone in their lives are murdered here,” Mr. Ben-Gvir subsequently wrote on social media platform Twitter, which is now called X. The settlement of Kiryat Arba is near Hebron, the largest Palestinian city.

As the uproar gathered, the American State Department chimed in, saying “We strongly condemn Minister Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank.” It fell to Prime Minister Netanyahu to defend Mr. Ben-Gvir’s comments.

Mr. Netanyahu said on Friday what was clear to most Israelis. “Israel allows maximum freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the prime minister said, but “unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists take advantage of this freedom of movement to murder Israeli women, children and families by ambushing them at certain points on different routes.

“In order to prevent these heinous murders, Israel’s security forces have implemented special security measures in these areas. This is what Ben-Gvir meant when he said the right to life precedes freedom of movement,” the prime minister added.

Earlier this week, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car near Hebron, killing an Israeli woman and seriously wounding the driver. That attack came just days after a Palestinian shooting attack killed an Israeli father and son in the northern Palestinian town of Hawara.

Mr. Ben-Gvir now wields significant power as the national security minister overseeing the Israeli police force in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. He has acknowledged the backlash but doubled down on his original statement.

“So yes, the right of me and my fellow Jews to travel and return home safely on the roads of Judea and Samaria outweighs the right of terrorists who throw stones at us and kill us,” he wrote. “Not only do I not regret my words,” he stated, “I am saying them again.”

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This story has been updated and revised for Mr. Netanyahu’s comments and other developments since the bulldog edition.


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