The timing couldn’t have been less appropriate.
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, when the country turns it focus to the unfathomable cruelty that resulted in the murder of six million Jews, Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich reminded us that there are Israelis who have not learned the full lessons of the Shoah.
In a Twitter exchange with Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, Smotrich wrote: “A true Muslim must know that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, and over time people like you who don’t recognize that will not remain here.”
Tibi later tweeted a screenshot of a WhatsApp message he received that called for killing and deporting Arabs from Israel, saying that he had been “flooded” with similar threats since Smotrich’s tweet.
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif also responded to Smotrich’s tweet, writing: “The disturbing fact is that while Smotrich is openly calling for deportation, opponents of the transfer are keeping quiet to please Naftali Bennett. Talk now. Before it’s too late.”
Smotrich’s odious utterings and implied threat wouldn’t have been appropriate at any time, let alone on the eve of a day that demands we remember man’s inhumanity.
Smotrich leads the most extreme right-wing party in the Knesset, sitting alongside Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former Kahanist, and Avi Maoz, head of the anti-LGBT Noam faction.
This is the same party that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with on Thursday as part of his effort to form what he has called a “true right-wing government.”
Including the Religious Zionist Party in the coalition might be politically prudent and Netanyahu’s only chance to stay in power, but even that seems like a longshot based on the current political landscape.
That’s why we won’t hear the prime minister condemn Smotrich’s statement, which implicitly warns: “If you don’t think like us, then you don’t belong here, and we will get rid of you.”
His statement must be condemned, often and loudly, by any and all responsible leaders and by any normative citizen, because as stated earlier, the lessons of the Holocaust aren’t one-dimensional.
One lesson that has been well-learned is that the Jewish people can only rely on themselves for their safety and well-being.
With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the institutionalization of the Israel Defense Force, some heavy ammunition was put behind the words, “Never Again.”
Since then, Israel has turned into a haven for persecuted Jews, and for any Jew who wants to join his brothers in their homeland and live a fulfilling life free of fear.
When we bowed our heads in silence as the siren rang out on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we did so in the knowledge that on the ashes of the six million fallen, a strong and vibrant country has arisen with supreme sacrifice of life and incredible determination that safeguards against any such atrocity ever taking place against Jews again.
Nevertheless, an essential lesson that Israelis must internalize from the experience of the Shoah is how to treat the ‘other’ in our midst.
Whether they be Muslim, Christian or Druze, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel must be regarded with an extra measure of sensitivity.
As long as they abide by the rules and laws of the state, they must be considered equals in all aspects of the Israeli experience. And that includes the right to express divergent opinions.
When Joint List MKs pledged on Tuesday to fight “apartheid,” “the occupation” and “racism” while being sworn into the Knesset, it was unpleasant – and unprecedented. But just as they are free to express those opinions – which are held also by a minority of the Jewish public – it is also every Israeli’s right to refute those ill-advised claims with reasoned arguments.
That’s what Bezalel Smotrich should have done, instead of issuing threats to those who don’t share his ideology – a dogmatic belief system that seems to discount anyone who doesn’t share his view of a Jewish-only “greater Israel.”
His party’s entrance into Israel’s government would be a huge mistake, a setback to the inroads being made to create an open and democratic society.
It would also expose the reality that we still have not learned the lessons of our past.