Ben-Gvir’s comments are a public embrace of apartheid in Israel

It has been reported that Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s car recently ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, injuring two of its occupants. This could not be more symbolic of Ben-Gvir’s political career and the harm he causes, even when he is in the back seat, let alone when he is given the chance to get behind the wheel of one of the country’s most sensitive ministries.

It is even more fitting that this traffic accident happened while he was on his way to yet another TV interview. As much as this Jewish supremacist politician is, to a large extent, the product of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its oppression of the Palestinian people, he is also a product of the media, which gave this man and his deplorable views disproportionately excessive airtime long before he entered frontline politics.

For chat show producers and presenters he was viewed as no more than an oddity, a cuddly ultranationalist who would add some spice to the discussion, but there was no danger that his views would come to be reflected in official government policies.

They could not have got it more wrong. These appearances made him a household name. He is now no longer simply the settler thug overturning Palestinian stalls in the Hebron market and telling one of the traders, “Go to Syria. We are the lords of the land here.” Or participating in what has become known as the “Hate Wedding,” an event during which men and children danced and sang, “O Lord God, please strengthen me that I may take revenge on the Palestinians.”

He is in the government now, his policies are simply apartheid policies, and he presents them with no qualms and no shame.

In recent weeks the anti-Palestinian language of far-right representatives in the Knesset and Cabinet has become even more malicious. There is a strong correlation between the levels of incompetence demonstrated by most members of the current government in performing their duties, and the vitriolic language they hurl at political rivals, at the Palestinian minority in Israel and, even more frequently, at those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It is a classic, deplorable tactic among those with strong fascist inclinations of deflection from the very simple fact that the populism that brought them to power is hardly useful or applicable when they are actually in government.

One would be hard pressed to find less-qualified individuals for the roles of national security minister and finance minister than Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich respectively; and in the case of the latter, also for his role as a defense minister, with sweeping powers over civilian issues in the West Bank that enable him to entrench Israel’s expansionist policies there while thwarting Palestinian development projects.

In his latest outburst from his favorite environment, a TV studio, Ben-Gvir bluntly and unashamedly claimed during an interview that “my right, the right of my wife and my children to move around Judea and Samaria is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs.”

Given the very simple fact that there has not been a single word of condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or any other Cabinet or coalition member, their silence can only be interpreted as acquiescence to Ben-Gvir.

He is in the government now, his policies are simply apartheid policies, and he presents them with no qualms and no shame.

Yossi Mekelberg

Most Israelis feel offended and react badly whenever their treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is characterized as that of an apartheid state. But there is no more accurate descriptor, if one only bothers to pay attention to the nature of relationship between Israel’s instruments of occupation and the Palestinian people, which was so perfectly epitomized by what this senior minister declared so publicly.

To add insult to injury he patronized a Palestinian-Israeli journalist, Mohammed Magadli, who was also in the studio, saying “Sorry, Mohammed but that’s the reality.” In other words, he was saying that as an Arab, the only option left for you is to accept this sickening state of affairs.

Ben-Gvir was correct. This is indeed the reality. But it is one that no decent human being should be happy with and it clearly falls under the legal definition of apartheid.

Both the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court define apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them,” and the institutionalization of this regime of oppression. Is not this the very description of the daily life and the daily hardships of the Palestinians who are controlled and dominated by Israel?

It is not that those who represent the settlers in government ever bother to hide their supremacist ideas, but in this case Ben-Gvir, while serving in government, has told it exactly like it is: The occupiers’ aims are to normalize discrimination along racial, ethnic and religious lines, in which the Jewish population’s interests by definition — and I mean by the racists’ definition — take precedence over those of Palestinians. The Palestinians must either accept this, or else.

Ben-Gvir’s model for Jewish-Palestinian relations is based on his experience of living in the Kiryat Arba settlement, but in a neighborhood that is, for all intents and purposes, within the city of Hebron, where a tiny minority of Jewish settlers of the most extreme type impose their will on the Palestinians and limit their rights of movement, residence and work, while taking pleasure in humiliating them daily.

However, we need to thank Ben-Gvir and his like-minded, bigoted political allies for their openness and honesty in presenting their twisted ideology in public. The path to the current situation — in which Palestinians use separate roads, queue at checkpoints for hours, face settler terrorism, are deprived of equal access to water and other resources, and live under a completely different and discriminatory legal system — was not a new one. It was being constructed and imposed long before the Religious Zionist Party came anywhere close to serving in government. However, now that its proponents are in positions of power they will not hesitate to inflict a second Nakba on the Palestinians.

What should worry anyone who believes in the fundamental humanity of all peoples, and in equal rights for everyone, is the lack of any robust response to all of this from the international community, and the stubborn refusal of the pro-democracy movement in Israel to take up the anti-occupation cause and call for equal rights for all people living on both sides of the Green Line.

This is the only way to stop this terrible miscarriage of justice and prevent the even worse cataclysm that is lurking just around the corner.

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