Mondoweiss / June 15, 2022
The context behind Matan Kahana’s shocking statement that he would like to send all Palestinians “to Switzerland” deserves close scrutiny because it proves it was not a mere slip of the tongue.
If there were a button you could press that would make all the Arabs disappear, that would send them on an express train to Switzerland — may they live amazing lives there, I wish them all the best in the world — I would press that button…
These amazing words were uttered on Monday by a minister in the Israeli government, Matan Kahana, who is number 3 on premier Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (Rightwards) governing party. The utterance has naturally received wide attention in itself, but the circumstances and context in which it was said deserve close scrutiny, because it is not a slip, or a mere “poor choice of words” as Kahana later claimed in his attempt at some sort of an apology due to critique when it became public.
Kahana is deputy Minister of Religious Affairs. He was just recently minister, and would actually still be were not for a technicality. A month ago Bennett decided to have Kahana resign his ministry post so that he could become a lawmaker – under the Israeli so-called “Norwegian law”, a lawmaker can resign from the parliament and vacate their seat for another from the party, serving as a minister without being a lawmaker. Bennett reportedly feared that another lawmaker from his party might be defecting and had Kahana resign to strengthen the loyalist ranks. The attempt to promote him back to a full minister has suffered a setback due to the government no longer having a majority. All that is to say, Kahana is a political heavyweight.
His words were said within a lecture to high school students at the illegal settlement of Efrat. A long sequence of it was aired on the Israeli Kan public broadcaster, and it’s worth going over the full speech, to understand how Kahana reaches Switzerland in the end.
‘No Palestinian was expelled from Judea and Samaria’
The sequence begins with Kahana telling the students that in “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names for the occupied Palestinian West Bank) “there is not one Jewish home that is built on a place from which an Arab [Palestinian] was expelled in order to build the Jewish home”.
This is a brazen lie. Since 1967, there have been mass expulsions in the West Bank. 1967 itself saw an ethnic cleansing of about a quarter of a million Palestinians in the West Bank, and since then there have been countless confiscations of Palestinian lands by the Israeli state. Some of the Jewish settlements are built entirely on privately owned Palestinian lands, like for example the settlement of Beit El, the “pet settlement” of former US Ambassador David Friedman. That settlement started in 1977 on the private lands of Al-Bireh and Dura al-Qar – of course, first confiscated for “military purposes”. In 1978 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the settlers could stay even thought they were literally squatting on private Palestinian land.
But for Matan Kahana, this is just not happening. Do Palestinians even exist for him? And what point is he trying to make?
Kahana continues by saying that “inside the 1967 lines”, and he uses scare quotes with an ironic tone of voice, “many places are built on places where Arabs lived”, but on the other hand, “Judea and Samaria, what we liberated after 1967”, there’s “not one place where we expelled Palestinians in order to build our towns”.
So, Kahana admits to a one truth – that many Israeli towns are built atop Palestinian towns, but he uses it to reinforce his lie about that never being the case in the West Bank.
One has to pause here for a moment, it’s only been half a minute into Kahana’s malicious propaganda, and so much deception has already been fed directly into the minds of these young students. This is the next generation of colonialist settlers.
‘We believe that the Lord Blessed Be His Name gave us the country’
So now, Kahana asks “why am I saying this?” We wonder the same thing. What’s the point to this false narrative?
Why am I saying this? Because there’s this conception that says that if we return to 1967 lines, then there will be peace – between two states that live side by side and it will all be good and nice. And I don’t believe in this. Why don’t I believe it? Right-wing people don’t believe it. Because we, we were expelled from our country 2,000 years ago. For 2,000 years we dreamt, prayed, we wrote songs, we awaited the opportunity – we returned to our country. We believe that the Lord Blessed Be His Name gave us the country, promised it to us in the Covenant of the Pieces, the bible is our deed – no one will come and tell us that it is not ours – all of it.
Now one needs to pause again. Only another 30 seconds of the talk has passed, and this is a lot to decipher. Basically Kahana is saying that there can’t be peace, because we can’t share the land. It’s all ours. From God. Like Israel’s former top diplomat Tzipi Hotovely (of Likud) said, “this land is ours, all of it is ours – we did not come here to apologize for that”. It’s also interesting that he cites Ben-Gurion from his 1936 speech to the British Royal Peel Committee about the bible being “our deed”. That is messianic stuff. Let’s just note then, in passing, that Ben-Gurion was a Laborite – we’ll return to that issue.
So now you would think that Kahana is actually saying it’s because of us, Jews, or God, that we can’t have peace. But no – he frames all this on the Palestinians.
“The story which they tell themselves”
But the Arabs have a whole other story, which they tell themselves. We know it’s nonsense, we know it’s not true, but this is the story they tell themselves. Now, why is it important to be familiar with the story that they tell themselves? Not in order to, God forbid, believe that it is true! But to understand what is the story they tell themselves. And the story they tell themselves is, that it is they who have been living here, and we came and expelled them.
Once again, Kahana has crammed so much thick propaganda into those young brains. He’s saying that the story of Palestinians being expelled is just a narrative. It’s something they tell themselves, but it’s nonsense. It’s a myth. And mind you, he’s not just referring to the West Bank, he’s relating to the whole of historical Palestine. So our myth – the biblical one – is so sacred, that it just beats their “story”, the one that they “tell themselves,” which also happens to be historical fact.
Kahana could simply read Benny Morris on the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians in 1948. And Morris is a super-Zionist! Morris thought Ben-Gurion should have gone further and expelled them all. But Morris admits to the fact – they were expelled, and he also recognizes the logic:
Transfer was inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a Jewish state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population.
But back to Kahana:
Now why did I say all this? The thought, in my view, that if we return to 1967 lines and that there will be two states that live side by side in peace, I think that’s nonsense. Because they will never give up Beit Gamliel, and they will never give up Sheikh Munis – the Tel Aviv University.
Beit Gamliel is an Israeli moshav (agricultural settlement) established in 1949 in the central coast, erected on the lands of Yibna, a town of over 6,000 Palestinian inhabitants, ethnically cleansed and destroyed in 1948 by Israeli forces (other towns, the biggest of which is Yavne, were erected upon Yibna’s usurped 60,000 Dunams). Kahana correctly mentions that Tel Aviv University is placed atop the ruins of Sheikh Munis – another Palestinian village, of about 2,000, which was ethnically cleansed in March 1948 (notably before the establishment of the state of Israel or the May war), following a concerted terror campaign by all main Zionist militant factions, including the Haganah, Stern Gang and Irgun.
So it’s interesting, isn’t it, one would think that now, Kahana is actually conceding to the reality that he called “nonsense” just before – they were expelled, it’s not just “a story they tell themselves”. But this goes really quick, and Kahana doesn’t pause to reflect much on this contradiction:
We dreamed for 2,000 years. As far as they are concerned, only 74 years have passed. What, will they give up their dream of return so quickly? And that’s why I think that the chance for peace is non-existent, certainly not in the foreseeable future.
When will it be possible then? In another 2,000 years? Is Kahana going to propose any solution? Ah, here comes Switzerland…
I can say for myself, that if there were a button you could press that would make all the Arabs disappear, that would send them on an express train to Switzerland — may they live amazing, amazing, amazing lives there, I wish them all the best in the world, okay? — I would press that button, I would press that button.
There is this chilling passive-aggressive tone here – Kahana doesn’t just want to send Palestinians off anywhere – he wants to send them to Switzerland, because he wishes them all the best, and Switzerland is nice.
It’s language that contains this irony, which is a typical Israeli chutzpah. ‘We’re pure, we’d even send these savages to a nice European country if it were, they’d love it.’ It’s a typical mocking with malicious racist European colonialist and white supremacist arrogance. It reminds me very much of the tone of Dov Weisglass, the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s advisor, who spoke about the purpose of the 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza and about Palestinians turning into “Finns”:
The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress… What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.
Alas, no button to Switzerland
Kahana, now almost two and a half minutes into his speech, bemoans that there is no such button by which to send all the Palestinians to Switzerland:
But what can we do? There is no such button. There is no such button which transfers all the Arabs to Switzerland with fun and happiness. And therefore it seems that we were destined to survive here on this land in some way.
We don’t have public coverage of how Kahana continued on, this is where the video ends. But it is also enough. Kahana doesn’t have a solution – somehow we’ll keep this going, and they’ll just have to live with the fact that we have a better (and older) story, a strong military (many thanks to U.S. aid), and then whoever will want to go to Switzerland will go. It’s actually an idea that is identical to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s, as he expressed it in 1967, when he proposed to say to Palestinians:
We don’t have a solution, and you will continue living like dogs, and whoever wants will go, and we’ll see how this procedure will work out.
So, as mentioned, Kahana got some backlash for his words, and not just from Palestinians, but also from the Zionist political right. Even lawmaker Eli Avidar from the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party said that it was “a miserable remark… It is a shame it was said… The Arabs are Israeli citizens and they are here to stay. What we should do away with are bigoted remarks and opinions.” Yisrael Beitenu are notably secular in their outlook. It’s kind of ironic too, that their leader Avigdor Lieberman proposed to behead disloyal Palestinians with an axe and drown Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea by the thousands. So much for doing away with bigoted remarks and opinions…
Palestinian lawmaker Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List tweeted in typical wit:
There is a button that will make you disappear from the government and from the Knesset. I will press it soon.
Kahana reportedly had the nerve to demand that Tibi apologize to him for that remark. But Kahana eventually tweeted something that was supposed to look like a half-apology:
In a conversation I held last night with students, I repeated the obvious notion that neither us nor the Arabs are going anywhere and that’s why we need to find a way to live here together… The current government is an important step in that direction. My flow of words included some poor phrasing.
But that rant, or at least the nearly three minute section we have of it, wasn’t exactly a Freudian slip. It wasn’t just about Switzerland. That was a comprehensive, calculated rant of incitement against Palestinians.
Half of Jewish Israelis share Kahana’s wishes
According to a 2016 Pew survey, nearly half (48%) of Israeli Jews opined that Palestinians (defined as “Arabs”) should be expelled from Israel – and the question did not differentiate between different territories under Israel’s control. That is to say – they’d expel Palestinian citizens and occupied Palestinians altogether if they had the opportunity. When it came to the Jews who defined themselves as religious in some way (from “traditional” to “ultra-orthodox”), the support for ethnic cleansing rose to the level of 54 to 71 percent respectively.
Kahana’s reference to the government as an “important step in that direction” (of living together), is a miserable alluding to the “government of change”, which is nothing of the sort. It is the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, it is an Apartheid government, and it is led by bigots who want to send Palestinians to Switzerland, for good.
And I’m afraid there are just no good alternatives within Zionism. Even “liberal-Zionists” like the late Israeli Laborite Prime Minister Levi Eshkol wanted to send Palestinians somewhere else – Eshkol said in 1967 that he wanted to send them “to the moon”. That’s arguably worse than Switzerland. And the message for Palestinians from Zionists is basically the same:
we’re tolerating you here, for a while. We hope you leave. We hope we’ll get a chance to make you leave. We’ve done it before, many times, in bits and pieces. We’re waiting for the opportunity to press another button. Switzerland, the moon, doesn’t matter. Meanwhile you’ll live like dogs. We don’t have a solution just at hand, but we know what the solution is, and it’s somehow about you leaving our promised land.
Jonathan Ofir – is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark