Netanyahu defends Ben-Gvir after US attacks 'racist rhetoric'

Netanyahu said that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir meant that Jews have a right to life.

 L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
L: Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir. R: Likud leader, former-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir after the US condemned as “racist rhetoric” his statements that for security reasons Jews had more rights to move around the West Bank than Arabs.

Netanyahu said that Ben-Gvir meant that Jews have a right to life, but at the same time emphasized that Palestinians have freedom of movement in the West Bank.

“Israel allows maximum freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the prime minister said.

“Unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists take advantage of this freedom of movement to murder Israeli women, children, and families by ambushing them at certain points on different routes.

“In order to prevent these heinous murders, Israel’s security forces have implemented special security measures in these areas. This is what Ben-Gvir meant when he said the right to life precedes freedom of movement”.

“Israel will continue its policy of maintaining security while affording freedom of movement for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.

 ISRAELI PERSONNEL secure the scene of Monday’s terrorist shooting attack on Highway 60, near Hebron. (credit: CHAIM GOLDBEG/FLASH90)
ISRAELI PERSONNEL secure the scene of Monday’s terrorist shooting attack on Highway 60, near Hebron. (credit: CHAIM GOLDBEG/FLASH90)

Ben-Gvir set off a domestic and international political storm over comments he made in a Channel 12 panel discussion on Thursday, after an emotional week, in which three Israelis were killed in two separate terror attacks in the West Bank.

One of those attacks occurred at the Beit Hagai junction.

Settler leaders and a number of right-wing politicians, including Ben-Gvir, have pressured the government and the IDF to increase security by placing more checkpoints on West Bank roads in Area C and sealing off Palestinian villages, towns, and cities where terror cells have been located.

Ben-Gvir said that unfortunately, he had no power to set policy in Judea and Samaria. The policy toward Judea and Samaria is “problematic,” he said, as he attempted to blame Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for “erroneous” policies that focus on improving the quality of life for Palestinians, he said.

“My right and that of my wife and my children, to travel on the roads in Judea and Samaria, is more important than the freedom of movement for Arabs,” Ben-Gvir said.

“I’m sorry Muhammed [Magadi],” he told an Israeli-Arab journalist on the panel. “That is the reality, that is the truth. My right to life precedes your freedom of movement,” he said.

US: We strongly condemn Ben-Gvir's racist rhetoric

A State Department spokesperson stated, “We strongly condemn Minister Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank.

“We condemn all racist rhetoric; as such messages are particularly damaging when amplified by those in leadership positions and are incongruent with advancing respect for human rights for all,” the spokesperson stated.

US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “have been clear that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to enjoy equal measures of freedom and security,” the spokesperson stated.

Ben-Gvir: Not only do I not regret my words, I am saying them again

IN RESPONSE to the backlash against him, Ben-Gvir released a statement in Hebrew and in English on Friday, in which he said that his words had been taken out of context.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's statement on August 25, 2023 (NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTRY)

“This is how fake news is spread: I said yesterday on a TV broadcast that the right of Jews to live and not be murdered in terror attacks prevails over the right of Arabs in Judea and Samaria to travel on the roads without security restrictions.

“That is why checkpoints should be placed on roads where regular terrorism and shooting by Jihadists are committed against Jews.

“But the Israeli radical Left selectively cut a section out of my statement, purposefully misquoted even that, and removed the context in order to slander me as if I had made a racist declaration that Jews deserve more civil rights than Arabs,” Ben-Gvir said.

He also released an amended version of his statement, with an English and Hebrew version, in which he clarified that he stood by his statements.

“Not only do I not regret my words, I am saying them again.”

“Our right to arrive home peacefully, to travel in Judea and Samaria and not be murdered takes precedence over the freedom of movement of Palestinian Authority residents.”

The European Union also condemned Ben-Gvir’s words, recalling “that relations between Israel and the EU shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.

“All human beings are equal and should be treated the same way. In this context, the values of democracy and respect for human rights stand central to the EU-Israel partnership, including as regards the people living under occupation in the Palestinian territory,” the EU said.

It called “on Israel to allow for a tangible improvement of freedom of movement and access for the Palestinians, to enable accelerated Palestinian construction, as well as social and economic development in Area C, and reverse the worsening of living conditions for Palestinians in Area C.”

American supermodel Bella Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent through her father, weighed in on the debate stating on her Instagram account that “in no place, no time, especially in 2023 should one’s life be more valuable than another.

“Especially simply because of their ethnicity, culture or pure hatred,” the model wrote. Her entry was shared by the Israeli left-wing group B’Tselem.

In a statement specifically targeted at Hadid, Ben-Gvir said, ”I see you took a small cut of my interview and spread it to the world with the intention of making me appear racist and evil.”

Ben-Gvir also invited Hadid to visit the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, where he resides, “to see how we live here, everyday Jews who have never done any wrong are being murdered, the threats my wife, children, and I get on a daily basis.”

The Palestinian Authority also condemned the Ben-Gvir’s statement, explaining that Israel had “no sovereignty or right in any part of Palestine. The rights of the Palestinian people to live as free and independent people in their homeland, in dignity, in peace and security, are universally recognized and enshrined,” it said.

“Israel’s systematic hate speech, provocative rhetoric, violence, and dehumanization of the Palestinian people across decades are fomenting mass violence at unprecedented levels. Ben-Gvir and Israeli officials must be sanctioned and held accountable for inciting violence and destruction and knowingly leading and contributing to the mass persecution of the Palestinian people,” it said.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.