National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is in hot water once again.
Over the past few days, his name has been plastered across headlines in Israel and abroad, and the US State Department issued a fiery condemnation of the politician for his “inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents of the West Bank.”
In an interview with N12 on August 23, Ben-Gvir commented on the measures put in place by Israel’s defense establishment following the murder of three Israelis in as many days.
“My right, the right of my wife, of my children to move around on the roads in the West Bank is more important than the right to freedom of movement of the Arabs – sorry, Mohammed, this is the reality, this is the truth,” he said. “My right to life precedes [their] right to freedom of movement.”
Almost immediately, his comments began to spread online, and while some reported the entire statement, others appeared to cherry-pick quotes in order to suggest that Ben-Gvir had claimed that his right to freedom of movement trumped Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement.
When reading the full quote, however, it is clear that he was referring to his right to move around safely, without fearing for his life. He wasn’t, in this case, putting Jewish movement rights above those of Palestinians.
Ben-Gvir himself has since commented on the way in which his statement has been twisted, saying he was purposefully misquoted and the context of his statement was removed, and that it was in this way that “fake news is spread.”
Don't criticize Ben-Gvir for what he hasn't said: Criticize him for what he has said
Frankly, he’s right. There is no reason to criticize him for something he hasn’t said – especially when it detracts from the ability to criticize him for things that he has.
On Wednesday evening, Arab Israeli journalist Mohammed Magadli – who had been in the studio during Ben-Gvir’s N12 interview and is the “Mohammed” referenced in his remarks – shared a clip of the full statement, questioning why the minister had seemingly singled him out despite the presence of multiple other journalists in the room.
In response, Ben-Gvir wrote: “Yes, Mohammed, I know you have a hard time hiding your empathy for terrorism, but I have no intention of apologizing to you. The right of the settlers to live and not to be murdered outweighs the right of movement of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria.”
“Yes, Mohammed, I know you have a hard time hiding your empathy for terrorism, but I have no intention of apologizing to you. The right of the settlers to live and not to be murdered outweighs the right of movement of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria.”Itamar Ben-Gvir
While politicians and news outlets have been reprimanding the minister for a wrongly-attributed message, they have brushed over a statement that is appalling and deserving of condemnation.
An established, respected Arab Israeli journalist working for one of Israel’s largest news outlets was accused of sympathizing with terrorists by a top cabinet minister.
And yet, this has made almost no headlines, has garnered next to no condemnations, and has been obscured and hidden under headline after headline about Ben-Gvir’s right-to-life comments.
As Israel’s arguably most divisive politician, Ben-Gvir is no stranger to controversy, and he has garnered more than his fair share of rightful criticism since taking office in January.
He has been criticized for visiting the Temple Mount on multiple occasions, for receiving a budget to build his own national guard, for shooting down a law intended to combat domestic violence in favor of his own version of the law, for attempting to dismiss then-Tel Aviv Police District Commander Ami Eshed, and for many, many inflammatory comments.
The backlash Ben-Gvir has received for provocation, incitement, and racist comments about Arab Israelis and Palestinians has been fair and justified. Criticizing the policies and ideologies of a politician is par for the course, especially when the politician is as controversial as he is.
And the remarks made to Magadli are shameful and abhorrent and they are worthy of rebuke. So why are they being ignored in favor of stories that inaccurately depict what he said?
In order to hold Ben-Gvir accountable for his inflammatory comments and racist attacks, his words cannot be twisted. He is not a man who minces his words; he says what he means and he means what he says.
Let his comments speak for themselves and let us not bury the shameful comments he makes under misleading headlines and curated outrage.