The Electronic Intifada / March 20, 2023
Bezalel Smotrich, the ultra-far-right Israeli finance minister, declared in Paris on Sunday that Palestinians do not exist.
There is “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people,” Smotrich said.
His remarks were “met with applause and cheers from attendees,” The Times of Israel noted and as videos of the event show.
Smotrich went further, declaring that he – a West Bank settler – is a “real” Palestinian.
Hanging from Smotrich’s podium was a flag depicting the whole of historic Palestine, Jordan and parts of Lebanon and Syria as belonging to the Zionist state – revealing a desire for even greater territorial expansion that other Israeli officials have expressed as well lately.
The claim that Palestinians don’t exist or are an “invented people” is widespread among Zionists.
“The purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel,” Adelson added.
Two years later Brooke Goldstein, a prominent Israel lobby activist in the United States, asserted that “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian person.”
But perhaps most notorious is Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s 1969 declaration that “There is no such thing as Palestinians.”
Meir was a stalwart of Israel’s ostensibly left-wing Labor Party establishment.
Smotrich’s latest comment comes just weeks after he declared that the Palestinian town of Huwwara should be “wiped out” by the State of Israel.
There should be no doubt that Smotrich means what he says and if given an opportunity, he and the ascendant political movement he represents would carry it out.
There should also be no doubt that what Smotrich is talking about and inciting is the genocide of the Palestinian people.
Nor are Smotrich’s remarks ill-considered outbursts; they reflect deep and careful thinking and a coherent ideology.
Values of the German SS
In 2017, Smotrich set out a plan to force the Palestinian people out of their homeland and take their entire land once and for all.
At the time, Daniel Blatman, a professor of Holocaust studies at Hebrew University, wrote that Smotrich took inspiration for his plan from the biblical Book of Joshua, which describes the wholesale slaughter of a people by the “children of Israel.”
Blatman called Smotrich, who was then deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament the Knesset, “the most senior government figure to date to say unabashedly that the option of genocide is on the table if the Palestinians don’t agree to our terms.”
Under Smotrich’s plan, Palestinians would have to submit to complete Jewish supremacy, or be forced out.
Today, Smotrich not only controls the finance ministry, but he has been given special powers over the so-called civil administration, the Israeli military occupation bureaucracy that runs the lives of millions of Palestinians – people whom Smotrich does not believe exist.
“Smotrich’s admiration for the biblical genocidaire Joshua bin Nun leads him to adopt values that resemble those of the German SS,” Blatman, a former fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, added.
It should be emphasized that even at the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was willing to give a tacit stamp of approval to Smotrich’s ideas.
“I was happy to hear that you are devoting the discussions at the conference to the subject of the future of the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a recorded greeting played at the gathering where Smotrich set out his genocidal plan.
“Up until not so many years ago, this country was deserted and abandoned, but since we returned to Zion, after generations of exile, the Land of Israel is flourishing,” Netanyahu asserted.
Liberal Zionists have already made intense efforts to portray the likes of Smotrich and Israel’s Kahanist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir as aberrations who are somehow not true representatives of Israel and Zionism.
We can expect those whitewashing efforts to intensify.
But there should be no doubt that Smotrich is simply articulating Israel’s foundational ideology and policy.
In 2004, the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz interviewed Benny Morris, one of the Israeli “new historians” who in the 1980s used Zionist sources to validate Palestinian accounts of the Nakba – the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 during which Zionist militias perpetrated rapes, arbitrary murders and dozens of massacres.
Morris explained that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister – like Meir, a pillar of the nominally secular, left-wing Labor Party – personally directed the deliberate “transfer” of the Palestinian people from much of their homeland.
“Ben-Gurion was a transferist,” Morris explained. “He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist.”
“I don’t hear you condemning him,” the Haaretz interviewer told Morris.
“Ben-Gurion was right,” Morris responded. “If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”
But for Morris, Ben-Gurion’s mistake is that he did not do enough ethnic cleansing.
“If he [Ben-Gurion] was already engaged in expulsion, maybe he should have done a complete job,” Morris asserted.
“I know that this stuns the Arabs and the liberals and the politically correct types,” Morris said. “But my feeling is that this place would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country – the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River.”
“It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake,” Morris added. “If he had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.”
No one who calls themselves a Zionist, whether on the “left” or the far-right, can fundamentally disagree with Morris.
That’s why no one who calls themselves a Zionist supports the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
It is why Zionists, even of the “liberal” variety, constantly fret about the “demographic threat” from the births of Palestinian babies.
This is genocide
And if no Zionist can fundamentally disagree with Morris, then they can’t really disagree with Smotrich either.
Indeed, Smotrich himself echoed Morris almost verbatim in 2021 when he yelled at Palestinian lawmakers in Israel’s parliament in 2021 that “It’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”
They may feign shock and disgust with Smotrich’s language, but anyone who believes that Israel must remain a “Jewish state” with a Jewish majority has to at least endorse the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that Israel has perpetrated to date, whether or not they actively advocate further large-scale expulsions in the future.
Indeed, the position of the diminishing number of Israeli “liberals” and other supporters of the so-called two-state solution can be summed up as follows: We support all the ethnic cleansing and land theft that Israel has already carried out but think future expulsions and land theft should be limited – although by how much is open to debate.
Whereas the position of Smotrich and company is: We, like you, support all the ethnic cleansing and land theft to date, but think there needs to be much more.
Morally and practically there is no difference because both positions relegate millions of Palestinians to living under brutal Jewish supremacist rule and apartheid or exiled from their homeland solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.
Coupled with the frequent claims that the Palestinians do not and have never existed as a people, Israel’s expulsions and massacres transcend the horrifying enough crime of ethnic cleansing and enter the realm of genocide: the complete erasure of the Palestinians as a people.
Here too, Smotrich’s position that Palestinians have no existence let alone rights as a people is no aberration but a reflection of Israeli consensus.
Recall that in 2018, Israel adopted its so-called Nation-State Law, a constitutional instrument declaring that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” thereby denying to Palestinians any national rights or existence.
And when Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government took office in December, it declared as its first guiding principles that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right over all areas of the land of Israel.”
Israel returns to its roots
It is often said, understandably, that Israel’s current government is its most openly racist and right-wing in history.
That may be true in terms of its rhetoric, but there is no practical difference between Israel’s secular “socialist” founder David Ben-Gurion and a fanatically right-wing religious Zionist like Smotrich.
But after decades of mostly suppressing Smotrich’s brand of openly genocidal language in favor of presenting a “liberal” and “democratic” face, why are Israelis now embracing it?
It is because Israel’s “demographic problem” – the existence of “too many” living, breathing Palestinians on their own soil – is becoming urgent.
With Jews once again a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, many Israelis clearly feel they have no option but to return fully to their country’s genocidal roots.
That is why ostracizing Smotrich – as French officials have done by declining to meet him during his time in their country – is insufficient and misleading because it falsely portrays one “extremist” as the problem.
The problem is Zionism itself and the ongoing genocidal settler-colonial nightmare it has unleashed on the Palestinian people and their land.
Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada