TEL AVIV, Israel ( Associated Press) — An Israeli lawmaker came under fire Tuesday for saying that if he could push a button to make all Palestinians disappear, he would.
Religious Services Deputy Minister Matan Kahana made the remarks to high school students in a West Bank settlement. In his remarks, which were recorded on video, he explained his view that the conflicting narratives between Israelis and Palestinians are a major obstacle to peace. He seemed to mean that Israelis and Palestinians had no choice but to find a way to live together.
“If there was some kind of button that you could push to make all the Arabs disappear, send them on an express train to Switzerland … I would push that button,” he said.
“But what can be done? That button does not exist,” she added in the video broadcast by Israeli public television Kan. “Therefore, it seems that we are somehow destined to exist (together) on this earth.”
Kahana is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Yamina party, which commands a government coalition of eight ideologically diverse formations including, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Islamist Arab party.
Though it has struggled in its first year in power and is on the line after a series of defections, the coalition has emerged as a symbol of Jewish-Arab cooperation in a society where Israeli Jews and Palestinians often live. separated and rarely interact.
The threat of forced displacement is a sensitive issue for Palestinians, who in the war surrounding the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 fled or were forced from their homes. A second occurred in 1967 during the Six Day War.
Since then, some Israeli nationalist politicians have used the threat of forced relocation against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who in law are equal to Jewish Israelis but in practice suffer discrimination and are considered by some to be traitors for their solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Kahana’s words drew condemnation from Israeli-Palestinian lawmakers and members of his own coalition. Opposition lawmaker Ahmad Tibi responded in a tweet that he would make him “disappear (Kahana) from the government and the Knesset,” the Israeli parliament. Michal Rozin, a deputy from the ruling group’s peace-loving Meretz party, said the remarks were “beyond intolerable.”
After the controversy, Kahana pointed out on Twitter that part of his speech was “badly expressed”.
“I made reference to the fact that both the Jewish and the Arab population are not going anywhere. And therefore, we must work to live in coexistence. Our coalition is a brave step towards this goal.”