Israeli Cabinet Member Apologizes for Wishing 'All Arabs Would Go on a Train to Switzerland'

Arab lawmakers were enraged by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana's recorded remarks to high school students in a West Bank settlement

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana at the Knesset, in April.
Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana at the Knesset, in April.Credit: Emil Salman
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana apologized on Tuesday following the publication of a video of him declaring his desire to expel Arabs from Israel and the West Bank, leading to heated condemnations by Arab lawmakers.

In a clip aired by national broadcaster Kan, Kahana could be heard telling students at the Derech Avot High School in Efrat that “if there was a button that could be pressed, that would remove all the Arabs from here, send them on an express train to Switzerland —where they would live an amazing life, I wish them all the best in Switzerland—I would press that button.”

However, he opined, “there is no such button. We were probably meant to [co]exist here on this land in some form,” adding that he believes the chances for a negotiated two-state solution leading to peace are nonexistent.

The Arabs tell themselves a different story, we know it's not true and that it's nonsense. They tell themselves that they are the ones who have always lived here and we came and deported them,” he said, asserting that the Palestinians will “never give up” claims to lands within the 1967 lines.

Kahana is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Yamina party which anchors a coalition of eight ideologically diverse parties, including for the first time in Israeli history an Arab Islamist faction and his remarks caused an immediate outcry, with lawmakers, both Jewish and Arab rushing to condemn Kahana’s remarks.

“The Kahanist apple did not fall far from the tree ... and this government is still talking about an Arab-Jewish partnership,” tweeted Joint List lawmaker MK Aida Touma-Sliman.

“Kahana was wrong,” added Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, riffing on the far-right slogan “Kahana was right,” a reference to the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahana, who advocated for the forcible expulsion of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

“There is a button that will remove you from the government and the Knesset. I'll press it soon,” wrote MK Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Ta'al party, a member of the Joint List.

“Matan Kahana, we are here because this is our homeland,” responded MK Walid Taha, a member of the coalition’s United Arab List. “You and those who think like you, keep dragging your frustration because we just will not go away!”

Eli Avidar, an MK from the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, also condemned Kahana’s remarks, tweeting “the Arabs are Israeli citizens and are here to stay. Yes, dark statements and opinions should be hidden.”

“Conversing [with] students yesterday, I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren't going anywhere. As such, we must work to live in coexistence,” Kahana posted on Twitter following the backlash against his statements.

“Our coalition is a courageous step towards this goal. Within this larger discussion, a few of my statements were worded poorly.”

While it has stumbled during its year in power and is teetering after a series of defections, the coalition has styled itself as a symbol of Jewish-Arab cooperation in a society where Israeli Jews and Palestinians often live separately and seldom interact.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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