Ben-Gvir’s threats to deport Palestinians are no joke

Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Jewish Power party Itamar Ben-Gvir, raises an Israeli flag in Safra square in Jerusalem on 20 April 2022 (AFP)

Orly Noy

Middle East Eye  /  August 18, 2022

The history of Israel shows that Zionist leaders’ threats about deportation of Palestinians should be taken seriously.

In an interview on Tuesday with Israeli army radio station Galei Tzahal, Knesset member and chair of the Jewish Power party Itamar Ben-Gvir said that if he is in the next government, he would work to advance a law that would strip citizenship from and expel “anyone working against Israel from within Israel”.

To help achieve his goal, Ben-Gvir declared that he would set up a government ministry to encourage emigration – for Palestinian citizens of Israel, of course.

Listening to the interview, one could infer that Ben-Gvir’s two interviewers were almost amused by his proposals, which they treated rather dismissively: “How would you expel people? On trains? Buses? Aeroplanes? And send them where? Even people who post on Facebook?”

The intent, apparently, was to present his ideas as delusional and absurd. However, given today’s Israeli reality and its historical policies towards the Palestinian people, Ben-Gvir’s threats are far from being just a theoretical exercise. Treating them lightly would be a grave political and moral error. 

Nakba as a model

The fact is, Ben-Gvir himself clearly demonstrates how easily the most violent political positions undergo a cleansing process and emerge as a legitimate part of the public discourse.

Once one of Meir Kahane’s outstanding students and youth coordinator for his extremist Kach movement, once designated as a terrorist organization by the US state department and outlawed in Israel, Ben-Gvir was even convicted of supporting a terrorist organization. Today, he is an ordinary member of the Israeli parliament.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working tirelessly to preserve the union between Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, another comrade on the far right, in order to boost their parliamentary power. According to a recently published poll, if Ben-Gvir runs alone, he is expected to win eight seats – more than the number won by the party of former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the last election.

Ben-Gvir’s threats must not be taken lightly, however – not just in terms of calculations about the future, but also based on bitter experience. The history of Israel shows that Zionist leaders’ threats about deportation should be taken seriously.

The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees during the Nakba is not merely no longer denied by Israel, but has become a model for emulation among some of its leaders.

Recently, Arab students who unfurled the Palestinian flag on campuses in Israel were threatened by Knesset member and former Likud minister Israel Katz with a second Nakba. Uzi Dayan, also a former Likud MK and former deputy chief of staff, has made similar threats, and these two are not the only ones.

As far as most mainstream Israeli political discourse is concerned, mass deportation of Palestinian citizens of Israel is an option on the table.

Obedience versus conscience

But there is something deeper that transforms Ben-Gvir’s statements from idle threats by a far-right politician into a scenario that could prove realistic, given certain circumstances that are not far-fetched at all.

This factor has to do with how much the Israeli public and its elected officials value the idea of obedience.

In an ultra-militaristic society like Israel, obedience willy-nilly becomes a value – especially when it is cloaked in nationalism, an existential cornerstone of Israeli society.

It is enough to see how very few young Jews refuse military conscription for reasons of conscience to understand how deeply ingrained is the idea of ​​obedience among them.

Jewish parents in Israel – even those whose politics are distinctly left-wing – send their children without hesitation to serve in the army, where they will commit the most heinous crimes against the Palestinians.

While these parents will demonstrate against the occupation, what determines their behaviour patterns in their most intimate spaces is their sense of the duty to obey.

‘The good’ leftists

In a similar vein, the greatest achievement that Meretz, an Israeli left-wing political party, can show its voters after a year spent inside one of the most extreme governments Israel has ever known, is the fact that the party obeyed the coalition’s directive and did not bring down the government: even when that government passed the “citizenship law”; even when it worked vigorously to increase settlements and legitimize them; even when violence against Palestinians reached ever more disturbing levels of cruelty.

While all this was going on, Meretz took pride in remaining the government’s loyal soldier, by obeying coalition discipline and not rocking the boat. 

In a country founded on the crime of mass deportation of the native inhabitants, where senior officials in the ruling echelons unhesitatingly and explicitly threaten a second Nakba, and where obedience is viewed as a value even among leftist circles, Ben-Gvir’s newest detailed plan of action must not be discounted.

There is a solid basis for believing that, should he in fact come to power, not only will Ben-Gvir act to implement his plan – but also that, if historical experience is any guide, among those who will take part in its implementation will be those same good leftists who, although they will conscientiously oppose it, will remain as faithful as ever to the obligation to obey.

Orly Noy is the chair of B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories