Backlash after Kahana says 'If I could ship the Arabs to Switzerland, I would'

Deputy economy minister Yair Golan (Meretz) called opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu a "fatal disease" on Tuesday.

Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on May 16, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament on May 16, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A critical statement about Arabs by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s closest political ally that was interpreted as analogous to the Holocaust caused a political uproar on Tuesday.

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister and Yamina MK Matan Kahana said before a group of religious high school boys in Efrat that the prospect of peace with the Palestinians is weak and unrealistic for the time being, and that “if there was a button I could press that would take all the Arabs and put them on a train to Switzerland, I would. A button like that does not exist.”

Kahana said that because the Palestinian narrative does not acknowledge the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel, it can never bridge its own story with modern Israeli settlement, whether about Tel Aviv [or Al-Shaykh Muwannis, an extinct village on land where Tel Aviv is now] in sovereign Israel or anywhere else.

The MK made a point of clarifying his statement on Twitter in both Hebrew and English.

“Conversing with students yesterday, I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren’t going anywhere,” he wrote. “As such, we must work to live in coexistence. Our coalition is a courageous step toward this goal. Within this larger discussion, a few of my statements were worded poorly.”

"Conversing with students yesterday, I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren't going anywhere."

Matan Kahana
Joint list party member Ahmad Tibi speaks during a press conference presenting the Joint list hebrew election campaign in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2021.  (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)Joint list party member Ahmad Tibi speaks during a press conference presenting the Joint list hebrew election campaign in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2021. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

He also called several Arab MKs to apologize and clarify his remarks after he received criticism from both the coalition and opposition.

“Matan Kahana, we are here because this is our homeland,” Ra’am (United Arab List) MK Waleed Taha tweeted shortly after the video, initially reported by KAN, circulated on social media. “You, and others who think like you, can continue to wallow in your frustrations because we will not disappear!”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi wrote Kahana mockingly: “There is a button that will take you from this government and the Knesset; I’ll press it soon.”

Fellow Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman tweeted “the Kahanist apple didn’t fall far from the tree... and in this government, they are still talking about Arab-Israeli cooperation.”

Touma-Sliman was referring to former MK Meir Kahane, who called for Arabs to be expelled from Israel and is not related to Matan Kahana. His Kach Party was outlawed from running again for Knesset.

MK Eli Avidar, who served as an Israeli diplomat in Arab countries, tweeted: “This was a terrible statement, it’s a shame it was said. Israeli-Arabs are here and they are here to stay. We need to be done with stances like these.”

“No one is leaving, not to Switzerland and not to anywhere else,” tweeted Meretz MK Mossi Raz. “We are staying here together to build a democratic and equal society.”

In another controversial statement by a coalition MK on Tuesday, deputy economy minister Yair Golan (Meretz) called opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu a “fatal disease.”

The Likud filed a complaint with the police against Golan, accusing him of incitement to violence against the party leader. The Likud called on Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid to condemn Golan’s statement.