Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said Sunday that the Palestinian people were “an invention” from the last century and that people like himself and his grandparents were the “real Palestinians.”
Speaking in Paris at a private memorial service for prominent right-wing Likud activist and Jewish Agency board member Jacques Kupfer, who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2021, Smotrich said there was “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people,” a comment that was met with applause and cheers from attendees, as seen in a video from the event posted online.
“Do you know who are the Palestinians?” asked the head of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party and Israel’s finance minister. “I’m Palestinian,” he said, also mentioning his grandmother who was born in the northern Israeli town of Metula 100 years ago, and his grandfather, a 13th-generation Jerusalemite, as the “real Palestinians.”
Smotrich was speaking from a podium that featured a map of “Greater Israel” that included the territory of modern-day Jordan, in accordance with hardline aspirations by some early Zionist groups.
Smotrich has a history of making inflammatory statements against Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, non-Orthodox Jews, and the LGBTQ community including once declaring himself a “proud homophobe.” In 2021, he said David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, should have “finished the job” and kicked all Arabs out of the country when it was founded. Earlier that same year, he said members of Israel’s Arab minority communities were citizens “for now at least.”
Last week, the minister — a senior figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition — stirred international outrage after calling to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following a deadly Palestinian terror attack that killed two Israeli brothers. He later backtracked the comment and apologized.
Smotrich also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry, where coalition agreements gave him authority over some responsibilities of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a Defense Ministry unit in charge of civilian affairs in Area C of the West Bank where Israel has full security and civilian control, and it’s office, the Civil Administration. Area C comprises the 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory in which Israeli settlements are located and where Israel maintains military and administrative control over both the Israeli and the Palestinian populations.
Smotrich, a staunch opponent to the establishment of a Palestinian state, sees control of the Civil Administration as a means of extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, replacing the military administration of the territory with direct control by the central government and its ministries.
On Sunday, in Hebrew remarks translated into French for the audience, Smotrich said, “the Palestinian people are an invention of less than 100 years ago.”
“Is there a Palestinian history or culture? No. There were Arabs in the Middle East who arrived in the Land of Israel at the same time as the Jewish immigration and the beginning of Zionism. After 2,000 years of exile, the people of Israel were returning home, and there were Arabs around [us] who do not like it. So what do they do? They invent a fictitious people in the Land of Israel and claim fictitious rights in the Land of Israel just to fight the Zionist movement.”
“This is the historical truth. This is the biblical truth. The Arabs in the Land of Israel need to hear this truth. This truth should be heard here in the Élysée Palace,” said Smotrich, in reference to the official residence of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose government is not meeting with Smotrich on this private trip to France.
“This truth should also be heard by the Jewish people in the State of Israel who are a little confused. This truth needs to be heard in the White House in Washington. The whole world needs to hear this truth because it is the truth — and the truth will win,” Smotrich continued.
Turning to Israel’s Arab communities, the ultranationalist lawmaker claimed that they should “stop spitting into the well [they] are drinking from.”
“The State of Israel is a miracle, Israel’s economy is a miracle. Contrary to the lies of the leaders of the [BDS] campaign that are spreading against us in the world, we are spreading good to all the residents of the country, Jews and non-Jews. Look around, in all 22 [Muslim-majority] countries, is there another country where [people live] such a good life? A modern country with a developing economy, with freedom of religion, freedom of expression… There is no country like this in the world. Stop fighting the State of Israel and the people of Israel. You will lose and we will win because the Holy One, blessed be He, is with us,” Smotrich said.
The comments came hours after Israeli and Palestinian Authority delegations met on Sunday for a relatively rare, albeit low-stakes regional summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where they recommitted to de-escalating tensions days before the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The meeting, with accompanying delegations from the United States, Jordan and Egypt, was a follow-up to a similar gathering held in Aqaba, Jordan last month — the first such high-level confab of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in years. The sides have agreed to meet for a third time next month.
On a visit to the US last week, where he met no US official from the Biden administration, Smotrich told American investors he was sorry for calling to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara and pledged to “protect every innocent life, Jew or Arab,” even as several hundred American Jews and Israeli ex-pats protested his appearance outside. Some had called to deny Smotrich a US visa over the comment.
Smotrich spoke to some 150 leaders in the Israel Bonds organization at a private gala dinner, attempting to drum up continued support for Israel’s economy despite reports of investment money fleeing the country due to the upheaval around the judicial overhaul plan being pushed by Netanyahu’s government.
In Paris early last month, Netanyahu met with Macron, who warned that without changes to his government’s far-reaching plans to overhaul the judicial system, “Paris should conclude that Israel has emerged from a common conception of democracy.”
Macron also pressed Netanyahu on rising violence between Israel and the Palestinians, urging Israel to avoid “any measures that could fuel the spiral of violence,” the palace said.
The French president also delivered a warning on Netanyahu’s attempts to widen the Abraham Accords. “If you continue what you are doing in Palestine, it will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept an agreement with you,” Macron said.
The prime minister said he must give something to his coalition in terms of settlements, but that it would be less than what Smotrich and fellow hard-right minister Itamar Ben Gvir desire. Both are vehemently opposed to the establishment of any future Palestinian state.
Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.