TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — An Israeli deputy minister was under fire Thursday for calling residents of an illegal West Bank settlement outpost “subhuman,” sparking an outcry that underscored the fragility of Israel’s ideologically diverse coalition.
Yair Golan, a former deputy military chief and a member of the dovish Meretz party, has previously sparked a backlash for comments appearing to liken the atmosphere in Israel to that of Nazi-era Germany.
“These are not people, these are subhumans. Despicable people and the corruption of the Jewish people. They must not be given any backing,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “This radical nationalist rampage will bring a catastrophe upon us.”
Golan, who serves as deputy economy minister, was referring to settlers from an illegal outpost in the West Bank, which was evacuated as part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip but where settlers have repeatedly rebuilt structures. The settlers and their supporters have also clashed with Palestinians from nearby villages. Golan said he was referring to settlers suspected of having defaced a nearby Muslim cemetery, which he likened to a “pogrom.”
Tensions have been high in the area around the outpost. Last month, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on a car filled with Jewish seminary students nearby. Yehuda Dimentman, 25, was killed and two others were wounded near the Homesh outpost, which is considered illegal by the Israeli government.
In a separate interview to Israeli Army Radio later Thursday, Golan defended his words but said most West Bank settlers were law-abiding.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Golan’s remarks were “shocking, a generalization and bordering on a blood libel.” The country’s foreign and defense ministers also condemned the remarks.
Former leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now opposition leader, said Golan’s words were “taken directly from Nazi terminology against the Jewish people” and called on Bennett to fire him.
The firestorm highlights the vastly different ideologies joined together under Bennett’s unwieldy coalition, which was united with the goal of ousting former leader Benjamin Netanyahu and very little else. The coalition includes dovish parties that support Palestinian statehood as well as nationalist parties opposed to the idea and even an Islamist faction.
The parties agreed not to tackle divisive issues but their disagreements, particularly on Israel’s 54-year occupation of the West Bank, have repeatedly spilled out.
The country’s public security minister, from the dovish Labor party, also triggered an uproar when he recently criticized settler violence against Palestinians.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war and some 700,000 settlers now live there. The Palestinians want those territories as part of a future independent state, along with the Gaza Strip.
In a 2016 speech marking the country’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan said the Holocaust — in which the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews — should prompt Israelis to “think deeply” about their society.
“If there is anything that frightens me in the remembrance of the Holocaust, it is discerning nauseating processes that took place in Europe in general, and in Germany specifically back then, 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and seeing evidence of them here among us in the year 2016,” he said.