Bezalel Smotrich has transformed himself from radical activist into a mainstream politician with an extremist manifesto.
By Emma Graham-Harrison / The Guardian
March 11, 2017
“A healthy person — who loves those who love him and hates those who hate him — doesn’t turn the other cheek.”
— Bezalel Smotrich
Bezalel Smotrich has backed segregated maternity wards separating Jewish and Arab mothers, called for government reprisal attacks on Palestinians and once organized a homophobic “Beast Parade” protest against Gay Pride. He is also a member of Israel’s Knesset, a confident polemicist and increasingly prominent political figurehead for the country’s ascendant far-right.
Like the far-right European and American politicians who have upended the political order further west, his stock in trade is drawing fringe beliefs into the political mainstream, shifting the centre of debate.
A commitment to defending settlements on Palestinian land, deemed illegal under international law, runs through his personal and political life. He was born in one, lives in one now and, in one of his most recent forays into controversy, he likened the evacuation of Amona, an outpost deemed illegal by Israel’s own courts, to “a brutal rape.”
He wants the Israeli military to be able to shoot to kill when children throw stones, flatly rejects a two-state solution and believes Jews have a divine right to all land that made up biblical Israel, he told Haaretz newspaper in a recent interview. “Looking after my people means that the whole land of Israel is mine, religiously, historically and also in practical terms,” he said. “I abort their [Palestinian] hopes of establishing a state.”
Yet with “brains, humor and courage,” the 37-year-old is “a far greater danger than your average rightwing clown,” Haaretz interviewer Ravit Hecht concluded after weeks shadowing him at meetings and events. Smotrich has transformed himself from radical activist to an influential, if fringe politician, in little more than a decade.
In 2005, he was arrested by the Shin Bet security services for his role in protests over Israel’s plans to withdraw from Gaza, allegedly on suspicion of planning to block roads and damage infrastructure to try to block the withdrawal. He was released without charges being brought, set up an influential rightwing NGO dealing with land issues and, since being elected to parliament in 2015, has been honing his political skills and rapidly increasing his profile.
He was a key figure behind two controversial recent bills, one legalizing the annexation of Palestinian land, the other barring supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign from entering Israel.