Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Biden administration, Reform Jewish leader slam Smotrich and Ben Gvir for calling for Palestinians' removal from Gaza

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration condemned calls by two Israeli government ministers for Palestinians to be removed from the Gaza Strip.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, also condemned the call. The criticism comes as gaps remain between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over who will govern Gaza on the day after Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas, the terror group that controlled the territory prior to its Oct. 7 invasion of Israel.

While Biden has pushed for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza, Netanyahu has said that Israeli forces will remain there following the fighting.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies, meanwhile, have pushed for the rebuilding of Israeli settlements there. Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who also has authority over West Bank settlements, and Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, have separately in recent days called for removing much of the Palestinian population from Gaza after the war.

On Monday, Ben Gvir said the war presented an “opportunity to orchestrate an immigration project, a project to encourage the immigration of residents from Gaza to the countries of the world.”

Smotrich told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday that he hoped Gaza’s Palestinian population would drop by at least 90 percent, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“If in Gaza there will be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million the entire conversation on ‘the day after’ will look different,” he said. Smotrich heads the Religious Zionist Party, which ran on a joint slate with Ben Gvir’s party in the 2022 elections.

Neither Ben Gvir nor Smotrich is part of the three-member war cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but that did not absolve the government from responsibility, said the Biden administration’s State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller.

“This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible,” he said in a statement. “We have been told repeatedly and consistently by the Government of Israel, including by the Prime Minister, that such statements do not reflect the policy of the Israeli government. They should stop immediately.”

Jacobs, who leads the Reform movement, the largest U.S. Jewish denomination, also condemned the statements, noting that his movement’s opposition to Smotrich predates the war.

The Reform movement took a leading role in the United States in speaking out against planned far-reaching reforms to the judiciary championed by Smotrich and others in Netanyahu’s government. Israel’s Supreme Court this week scuttled those plans for the time being.

“We condemn Israeli Minister Smotrich’s call for ethnic cleansing,” Jacobs wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Along with most major American Jewish leaders, we have refused to meet with him to sanction his politics and beliefs.”

Ben Gvir in a post published after Miller’s statement said Israel “was not yet a star on the American flag,” and suggested that settlers evacuated in 2005, when Israel withdrew, would move in to replace the Palestinians. “We will do what is right for the state of Israel: the emigration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow residents of the border area to return home and live in security, and will protect Israeli soldiers.”

 

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