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US Condemns Israeli Minister Ben Gvir’s ‘inflammatory’ Palestinian Comments

The state department said it strongly condemned the “inflammatory comments” and “all racist rhetoric”.

His remarks on Israeli TV sparked a storm of criticism online.

Mr Ben Gvir has since called the coverage “fake news” and attacked the “radical left” for “misquoting” him.

On X, the platform previously known as Twitter, Mr Ben Gvir on Friday also launched a scathing attack on the Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid for reposting a clip of his comments, calling her an “Israel hater” who made him look “racist and dark”.

Ms Hadid had reposted the video on Instagram where she has 60 million followers, adding the comment: “In no place, no time… should one life be more valuable than another’s.”

Mr Ben Gvir leads the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit or “Jewish Power” party which espouses racist, anti-Arab policies. He has previous convictions for inciting racism and supporting terrorism.

In December he was made a top minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave him a seat in his security cabinet and put him in charge of the domestic police, as well as Israel’s militarised border police force that operates in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

His comments on Wednesday came amid spiralling violence in which Palestinian gunmen killed three Israelis in separate attacks, including one close to the West Bank city of Hebron, where Mr Ben Gvir lives in a Jewish settlement.

It led to even further restrictions on movement for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as Israeli forces searched for the gunmen.

“My right, my wife’s, my children’s, to roam the roads of Judea and Samaria are more important than the right of movement of the Arabs,” said Mr Ben Gvir, using a biblical term for the West Bank.

He then addressed Mohammad Magadli, an Arab Israeli journalist in the studio, saying: “Sorry Mohammad, but this is the reality, that’s the truth. My right for life comes before their right to movement.”

A video clip of the comments went viral online and sparked a backlash, including from Palestinians and Israeli opposition figures.

The Palestinian Authority leadership condemned “in the strongest terms the racist and heinous remarks by Israel’s fascist minister Itamar Ben Gvir, which only confirms Israel’s apartheid regime of Jewish supremacy and racial terror against the Palestinian people”.

It called for Mr Ben Gvir and other Israeli officials to be “sanctioned and held accountable”.

Karine Elharrar, an Israeli MP in the opposition Yesh Atid party, described the minister as “the authentic representative of the most racist, messianic and Kahanist government we’ve ever had”.

Mr Ben Gvir’s political background lies in Kahanism – a violently racist movement that supports the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands.

Pressed by Israeli journalists for a response, a US state department spokesman on Thursday night said: “We strongly condemn Israeli minister Ben Gvir’s inflammatory comments on the freedom of movement of Palestinian residents in the West Bank.”

“We condemn all racist rhetoric; as such messages are particularly damaging when amplified by those in leadership positions and are incongruent with advancing respect for human rights for all.”

Later on Friday, the EU also “strongly condemned” Mr Ben Gvir’s comments, saying “the values of democracy and respect for human rights stand central to the EU-Israel partnership, including as regards the people living under occupation in the Palestinian territory”.

Palestinians in the West Bank already endure severe restrictions on the right to movement, including being unable without permits to freely travel to Jerusalem or their ancestral lands inside Israel. The Israeli authorities say this is done for security reasons.

Parties representing Arab Israelis, or Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as Israeli anti-occupation groups condemned Mr Ben Gvir but argued that he was simply articulating longstanding realities in the West Bank.

Addressing the US state department response, Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi said: “Ben Gvir… described bluntly, as a top Israeli minister, the general and sweeping Israeli policy since 1967. Why are you crying out following the description of racist apartheid reality, and not… the reality as it is?”

B’tselem, an Israeli non-governmental organisation which provides support for Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation, said: “This is the reality we see on the ground, every day, for five decades. The rights of the Jews are more important than the rights of the Arabs, this is what apartheid looks like.”

In a likely nod to the global response to his comments, Mr Ben Gvir posted a statement in English on Thursday blaming the “Israeli radical left” for “selectively” misquoting him.

He said: “This is how fake news is spread: I said yesterday on a TV broadcast that the right of Jews to live and not be murdered in terror attacks prevails over the right of Arabs in Judea and Samaria to travel on the roads without security restrictions. That is why checkpoints should be placed on roads where regular terrorism and shooting by jihadists are committed against Jews.”

“This is exactly how the Left continues to fan the flames of incitement in the world against the Israeli government,” he added.

Mr Netanyahu’s office issued a statement on Friday evening, in a likely attempt to limit the diplomatic damage, trying to clarify the comments.

It said: “In order to prevent these heinous murders, Israel’s security forces have implemented special security measures in these areas [of the West Bank]. This is what Minister Ben Gvir meant when he said ‘the right to life precedes freedom of movement’.”

Following Monday’s attack, Israeli forces set up checkpoints at entrances and exits to Hebron where they were questioning Palestinians, while they searched for the gunmen who shot dead Batsheva Nigri, a 40-year-old nursery teacher and mother of three who lived in a nearby settlement.

On the same day, a Palestinian man was critically injured after being shot in the head by Israeli forces in a village near Nablus. Video appeared to show him unarmed and running towards an injured person before being hit by a single shot.

Last week, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was left seriously wounded after being shot in the head by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem. Police alleged he had tried to throw a petrol bomb at them during a raid.

The same day video showed an apparently unarmed Palestinian man said to suffer from mental health problems being shot and wounded by Israeli troops during a protest near Israel’s separation barrier in Qalqilya.

Source: BBC