Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich seems to continuously garner controversial headlines and international condemnation. In early March, after a terror attack in Huwara that left two Israeli civilians dead, and sparked a Jewish lead pogrom through the town that left dozens of homes and cars burned, several injured, and one Palestinian dead, he declared “the (Palestinian) village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it”.
Huwara has of course served as a base for numerous terror attacks and security incidents, and the government’s inability to secure the road that traverses through is cause for deep and justified frustration among Jews who live in the area. However, calling for the destruction of an entire village, especially while being a senior government official, is irresponsible and arguably a “Chilul Hashem”, a term used to describe when a Jew acts immorally or indecently in the presence of others.
Swift international outrage, and likely internal coalition pressure, led Minister Smotrich to explain that this was an “emotional slip of the tongue”. More recently, in mid-March, the Minister spoke at a Paris memorial event behind a podium with a map of “Greater Israel,” seemingly indicating Israel’s true borders extend through all of 48’ Israel, the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, and all of Jordan. This incident led to such embarrassment that National Security Advisor Tzahi Hanegbi was forced to directly address it. At this same event, Smotrich also declared that “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” despite millions identifying as such including many citizens of our own Israel.
These three incidents make it clear to me that before leading to further embarrassment and chaos perhaps Minister Smotrich, the head of the Zionist Religious Party, should take a hiatus from politics to restudy the biblical texts and history that are meant to inspire his party’s world view.
Firstly, his declaration to wipe out an entire village in the biblical heartland is very reminiscent to me of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis Chapter 18, G-d tells Abraham, the shared forefather for Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, that he will wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Abraham, a figure meant to serve as a primary inspiration for Jewish tradition, immediately begins an aggressive negotiation with G-d. Abraham pleads, perhaps even in shock, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” before attempting to further consult with G-d and avoid the destruction of these cities to save any innocence that may exist. I am of course not claiming Huwara is entirely evil like Sodom, although it obviously has served as the basis of repeated violence, but no doubt the Smotrich must think so if he dared to try to emulate the role of G-d in deciding that an entire town should be “wiped out” despite it no doubt containing innocent people. We can learn from Abraham’s negotiation with G-d that it is our role as a man to protect the innocent and attempt to levy punishment only on the guilty themselves.
Secondly, I suggest that Minister Smotrich restudy the books of the prophets as well as consult with archaeologists or the Israel Museum because, although he wishes that the Palestinians didn’t exist and that solely Jews have agency and autonomy or perhaps even the capacity to live here, Ancient Israel was a land live in by many peoples. Additionally, before standing behind a map of “Greater Israel”, Smotrich would have been wise to stand beside it as the map’s borders expand far beyond any known boundaries of ancient biblical Israel known to any bible scholar or Theologian and instead serves more as an expansionist fantasy and denial of Palestinian existence rather than anything founded in biblical history or religious tradition.
As Minister Smotrich has taken to almost weekly embarrassment for Israel that has real diplomatic ramifications and which also leads to further incitement and tensions within Israeli society, I believe it is best he take a break from politics, restudy the Bible before returning to the helm and focusing on governing rather than talking.