Israeli Minister: Arabs Are Guests Here, for Now

Bezalel Smotrich attacks Israeli Arab lawmakers for being absent from Knesset inauguration in order to demonstrate against violence in Arab society

Bezalel Smotrich speaks at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport, September 21, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich attacked Israeli Arab lawmakers on Friday for participating in demonstrations against police inaction on spiraling violence in Arab society, saying that they, and the rest of the country's Arab citizens, are "guests" in Israel.

Smotrich, a member of the far-right Yamina alliance took to Twitter, saying "We are in luck that the Arabs boycotted the opening ceremony of the 22nd Knesset. They would have shot into the air to express happiness/sadness/their protest/ because that's their habit, and then, of course, blame the police."

On Thursday, Israel's new Knesset was sworn in as thousands of Israeli Arabs held demonstrations in several Arab cities and towns including Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Shfaram, Tamra, Majdal Krum, and Kfar Qasim.

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Joint List Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi announced to the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee on Wednesday that the 13 Arab lawmakers of the Arab-majority party would be absent from the opening ceremony. Their boycott was intended as a gesture of "protest against the wave of murders and violence" in the Israeli Arab community.

In response to Smotrich's remarks on Friday, Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said "I'm surprised the racist [Smotrich] didn't take our seats and claimed God told him they are his."  

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh attending a demonstration in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, israel, October 4, 2019.

Smotrich then responded saying, "I was just scared to find an illegal gun under the chair so you could also blame the Knesset guard and not just the Israeli police. And since you brough it up then yes – God did promise us all of the Land of Israel, a promise he kept. We've been just been the most hospitable people in the world since the days of Abraham and so you're still here. At least for now." 

This adds on to a Twitter feud between Smotrich and Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman, who tweeted that she remembers how in 2015 Smotrich, then a newly elected Knesset member, asked if he can bring his weapon into parliament. “Smotrich is still the same racist he used to be and carries a weapon despite the fact he is poses danger to the public," she said.

Smotrich then replied: “When many of your people, who have been doing that [carrying weapons] for a century, will stop wanting to murder us, with the encouragement of you and your terror-backing friends at the Knesset, I will happily give up my pistol.”