Racist MK Bezalel Smotrich, a settler in the Palestinian occupied territories who leads the far-right Religious Zionism alliance in the Knesset, warned on Wednesday, April 7, only hours before the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day, that he would “make sure” that prominent Joint List lawmaker MK Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), and other Muslims would not remain in Israel if they didn’t recognize that the “land [of Israel] belongs to the Jews.” Tibi responded by calling Smotrich a racist in German.
Earlier in the day, Tibi gave an interview with Radio 103FM, during which he was asked his opinion on remarks made by the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, an outspoken and racist religious Zionist figure, who in 2019 said, “The land of Israel vomits out the Arabs.” Tibi called Eliyahu “racist garbage,” and added, “I despise him. A rabbi is not supposed to talk like that. And if a sheik talks like that about Jews, then he should also be condemned.”
Rising to defend Eliyahu, Smotrich tweeted that “a true Muslim needs to know that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and over time Arabs like you who don’t recognize that will not remain here.” Tibi tweeted back that “it makes me happy that you won’t be a minister without relying on Arabs.” Then, switching to German, he wrote “Du bist ein Rassist [You are a racist].” Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash) called Smotrich a “racist and Arabophobe” who, she said, never missed a chance to incite against Arabs.
A bloc of far-right and religious parties led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been mandated by the country’s president to form a new government, currently does not have a parliamentary majority and may need outside support from the United Arab List (Ra’am), an Islamist conservative party. However, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism alliance of racist, homophobic and extreme-right parties with a total of six Knesset seats, is part of Netanyahu’s bloc, but the former has vowed he will not join any coalition that relies on even outside backing from Ra’am. MK Mansour Abbas, the leader of Ra’am” has been courted by Netanyahu’s Likud party to possibly give the outside support he needs to make it over the 61-majority mark, actions which led to Ra’am’s split with the Joint List about a month and a half before the March 23 election.
Smotrich, a self-described “proud homophobe,” helped to organize a 2006 anti-LGBT rally when World Pride Day came to Jerusalem. The “beast parade” saw right-wing activists stalk the Pride parade route with donkeys and goats, claiming the animals were above LGBT+ people because they haven’t “sinned.”
Other Knesset members within the Religious Zionism umbrella alliance include Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, and Avi Maoz, founder of the anti-LGTB and fascist Noam party who opposes women’s rights. Ben-Gvir has celebrated the killing of Palestinians, has previously been convicted of inciting violence and supporting a terror group, and believes the “Arab enemy must be expelled” from Israel.
On Tuesday, April 5, dozens of human rights, women’s and LGBTQ organizations gathered outside the gates of the Knesset demanding that the new MKs who were sworn in that day not allow the formation of a government with parties like the Religious Zionist alliance that promote racism and the hatred of women and the LGBTQ community.
Hundreds of protesters, among them Hadash and Communist Party activists, waved Israeli, rainbow and red flags and held signs reading, “This is a fight for our lives”. Among the organizations involved were many of Israel’s major women’s and LGBTQ groups including Wizo, Na’amat, Women of the Wall, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, The Agudah – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, The Israel Women’s Network, Israel Gay Youth, and Rabbis for Human Rights. “A red line has been crossed in the legitimization of extremist parties by having them in the Knesset,” event organizers said in a statement. “These parties promote homophobia and misogyny and promise to fight us on every front. These people must not make decisions about our lives and we must not give them a place in the coalition and government.”