On Sunday, at a Paris memorial ceremony for the French right-wing activist Jaques Kupfer, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told the crowd that there is “no such thing as Palestinian people.”
“The argument that there is no Palestinian people should also be heard among Arabs in Israel and among ‘confused Jews,’” he added.
On the podium that Smotrich spoke from, there was a map depicting historic Palestine (along with parts of other surrounding countries) belonging to Israel.
This isn’t the first time Smotrich has made headlines for recent incendiary comments. Last month he called for the Palestinian village of Huwwara to be “wiped out” amid a surge in Israeli settler violence.
Smotrich’s comments on Palestinians are reminiscent of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s remarks decades ago. “There were no such thing as Palestinians,” said Meir in June 1969. “When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? … It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
“Before getting into a tizzy over Israel’s Smotrich’s racist rant ‘there are no Palestinians,’ remember the much-revered Golda Meir said the very same thing a half century ago,” tweeted Arab American Institute founder James Zogby. “The denial of Palestinian existence has always been central to Zionist ideology.”
At Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah details how the idea of Palestinians as an “invented people” is a common view among Zionists. “There should also be no doubt that what Smotrich is talking about and inciting is the genocide of the Palestinian people,” he writes. “Nor are Smotrich’s remarks ill-considered outbursts; they reflect deep and careful thinking and a coherent ideology.”
While Smotrich has been condemned as an extremist across the political spectrum, Meir remains a popular historical figure and even a feminist icon to some. At the Berlin International Film Festival last month Goldaa biopic starring Helen Mirren as the Israeli politician, premiered.
In February, Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) introduced a bill directing the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins as a tribute to Meir. “Golda Meir’s story is a testament to the progress of the Jewish people, and that of Jewish women in particular,” said Wasserman Schultz in a statement. “As a founder of the State of Israel, she modeled leadership for future generations and was fundamental in strengthening the United States-Israel partnership. I’m proud to sponsor this legislation to cement her place in history.”
The legislation has gained seven cosponsors since being introduced: Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Grace Meng (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Maria Salazar (R-FL), and Katie Porter (D-CA).
In a March 6 interview with Jewish InsiderPorter (who is running for Dianne Feinstein’s current Senate seat) said she consulted with local AIPAC officials before a recent trip to Israel and pushed the J Street-sponsored delegation to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I was extremely impressed with his willingness to kind of grapple with us at some of the toughest issues that Israel’s facing, everything from judicial reform — an issue that we’re having questions and discussions about right now within the Democratic Party here in the United States — to issues about the West Bank and about settlements,” Porter told the website.