In Paris speech, Israel Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich claims Palestinians don’t exist

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  March 20, 2023

Speaking at a lectern featuring a map of “Israel” that included the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan as Israeli territory, Bezalel Smotrich claimed Jewish Israelis are “the real Palestinians”.

Speaking to a gathering of right-wing Jews in Paris yesterday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich categorically denied the existence of Palestinians, saying that “there’s no such thing as “Palestinian people.” The statement came during a speech where Smotrich outlined his belief that Israel has exclusive Jewish, God-ordained rights to the land, and the lectern was adorned with a map of Israel that included the occupied Palestinian territory and the country of Jordan as part of Israeli territory.

The event was a memorial ceremony for a French rightwing activist, Jaques Kupfer, and was supposed to be sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, but that organization reportedly retracted its sponsorship because of Smotrich’s participation.  

The map featured on the lectern was a reference to the Irgun, the Zionist organization led by Menahem Begin, which featured a similar map in its emblem. That organization (as well as its offshoot LEHI or Stern Gang led by Itzhak Shamir) were followers of the ideology of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, which became known as “Revisionist Zionism” because of its territorial maximalist vision to revise the suggested borders for historical Palestine to include Transjordan. A famous Revisionist song, written by Jabotinsky in 1929 (incidentally also during a visit to Paris), had a famous line: “Two Banks has the Jordan – This is ours and that is as well.” 

At the event yesterday, a poster of Jabotinsky stood at the left of the stage. One could not be mistaken about the suggestion in all of this. It was an orgy of messianic maximalist Zionist nostalgia, one which is apparently seeking to find a place in mainstream Israeli politics. 

Smotrich emphasized that the denial of Palestinian existence is also the heritage of Jaques Kupfer:

“Jacques’ truth must be told with all our might and without confusion: He said there is no such thing as Palestinians—because there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.”

Kupfer was an influential official in Zionist organizations – he was head of the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Diaspora Zionist Activities and French Speakers, a member of the Zionist Executive, and a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors. Kupfer was a Likud activist. The Likud party morphed from Begin’s Herut (‘Freedom’) party and is now the biggest party in Israeli politics, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Smotrich claimed that the (non-existent) Palestinians created a “fictitious people” because they don’t like the fact of Jews returning after 2,000 years:

“After 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel are returning home, and there are Arabs around who do not like it. So what do they do? They invent a fictitious people and claim fictitious rights in the Land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement.”

Critical observers may recognize that what Smotrich was saying about Palestinian non-existence was also something that Golda Meir, the late Israeli Laborite Prime Minister, said (the Jewish News Syndicate noted this and said that “Smotrich’s claim is not a new one”). More recently, Smotrich’s patron, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Palestinians “weren’t there at all” when European Jews emigrated to Palestine in the 1800s. “They said we’ve been here for centuries. No they haven’t,” Netanyahu said. The late Sheldon Adelson, the biggest Republican donor for decades, espoused the same bigoted mythology. “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian,” he said, there are just “southern Syrians.”

In the speech, Smotrich also claimed that Israeli Jews, like his grandparents, are “the real Palestinians” and that Palestinian culture does not exist.

“Do you know who are the Palestinians? I’m Palestinian,” Smotrich said as he described his grandparents’ ties to the land having been born in Jerusalem and the Israeli town of Metula, claiming this made them the “real Palestinians.”

“Is there a Palestinian history or culture?” Smotrich asked rhetorically. “No,” he answered. 

 In recent weeks, Smotrich has become the symbol of Israeli genocidal policy run amok. After his repeated calls to “erase” the Palestinian village of Huwwara made international headlines, his ideology has made it hard even for mainstream Zionists to embrace the government minister for fear of being seen as fascist.

His visit to the United States last week was mostly isolated to an Israel Bonds conference as the Biden Administration and the majority of mainstream Jewish organizations would not meet with him while various Jewish organizations protested his visit. And similarly, during his visit to Paris, the French Foreign Ministry reportedly said they would have no contact with Smotrich. 

I don’t know if Bezalel Smotrich seriously has ambitions to take over Jordan. But he has a clear plan to take over the entire West Bank. Perhaps he does have ambitions to make “that [eastern] one [Israel’s] as well”.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark