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Israel's far-right leader Smotrich calls rights groups 'existential threat'

Religious Zionism leader says upcoming Israeli government should seize funds from rights groups and take legal action
Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right Israeli lawmaker and leader of the Religious Zionism party, speaks during a rally with supporters in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, 26 October 2022 (AFP)
Par MEE staff

The leader of the Israeli Religious Zionism political alliance Bezalel Smotrich said human rights groups pose an "existential threat" to Israel during a right-wing-sponsored conference at the Knesset on Monday.

Smotrich, whose party won 14 seats in the November general election, said that the upcoming Israeli government should seize funds from human rights groups and act legally against them.

The lawmaker made the comments during a conference titled "Human rights organizations operated by Hamas", sponsored by the right-wing Ad Kan organisation.

"There is a very late identification process…if we knew how to identify them in the early stages we would handle them in a much more effective way," Smotrich said.

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Gilad Ach, the conference organiser and the CEO of Ad Kan, claimed that the International Solidarity Movement, which has defended Palestinian rights since 2001, has collaborated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Other Knesset members of the Religious Zionism party, including Almog Cohen and Ofir Sofer, and the Likud party's Amichai Chikli also spoke at the Ad Kan conference.

The speakers referred to Israeli groups, such as New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence and Peace Now, as examples of human rights groups that pose an "existential threat" to Israel, according to Haaretz and Channel 7

Smotrich said that human rights groups started off small, but "today we understand the magnitude of the threat, just like the nationalist extremism of the Arabs of the State of Israel, who also started small, but the threat has evolved. At first, you think it's a mosquito, and then you understand it's a swarm."

He added that it was possible and necessary for the Israeli government to "turn the wheel in the face of the encouragement of terrorism, besmirching and delegitimising, it is time for us to respond".

Likud's Chikli said at the conference that "under the guise of human rights organisations and humanitarian activity hides a radical antisemitic and anti-Zionist ideology, whose purpose is to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel and spill the blood of its soldiers and citizens."

Coalition talks

Smotrich's Religious Zionism is the third largest faction in the Knesset, after the Likud and Yesh Atid.

He has repeatedly asked to be named defence minister in the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu, while fellow Religious Zionism parliamentarian and head of the Jewish Power party Itamar Ben-Gvir has asked to be appointed as public security minister, which would put him in charge of the police.

Ben-Gvir has cut deals with Likud's leader Netanyahu, enabling settlers to return to an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

On Sunday, Ben-Gvir reached another deal with Likud to grant the public security minister more power to decide police operations, although it would require a parliamentary vote.

The current legislation states that the Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the police, while the minister has certain powers that include appointing senior police officers. But Ben-Gvir is asking for the police to be under the control of the public security minister, according to Haaretz.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, tweeted on Monday that the upcoming Israeli government is "going to be a government that the extremists rule. Full Control."

"They will lead us to become a third-world country. At odds with the Americans, at odds with ourselves. Ben-Gvir, a target of the police and a target of the Shin Bet, will be responsible for the police and the Shin Bet," Lapid wrote. 

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