Independent Jewish Voices Canada is calling for immediate action by the Canadian government in response to comments by a senior Israeli minister that the Palestinian town of Huwara should be “wiped out.”
Speaking at a conference hosted by news publication TheMarker, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also the minister in the defence ministry, in charge of civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, said he thinks “the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out” and that “the state of Israel should do it” rather than private citizens. Huwara is a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Nablus, surrounded by settlements, long subject to violence from Israeli settlers and orchestrated infrastructure shutdowns from the Israeli government.
The minister’s comments came a few days after Israeli settlers went on a violent rampage in Huwara and neighbouring villages, which has been widely labeled a pogrom, including by the Israeli military general in charge of troops in the West Bank and the former director of the Anti-Defamation League. Four hundred-plus Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian villages of Huwara, Zaatara, Burin and Asira al-Qibliya, burning dozens of homes and killing a 37-year-old Palestinian man while wounding hundreds as Israeli forces stood by. The man who was killed, Samih al-Aqtash, had just returned from volunteering in Turkey to help earthquake victims. He was the 67th Palestinian killed by either the Israeli army or vigilante settlers this year alone.
A pogrom is a violent riot with the specific intent to massacre or expel a specific group of people. It emerged as a Yiddish word in the late 19th century to describe the attacks on Jews across the Russian empire. We use the word “pogrom” to recognize that Israeli settlers are recreating the kind of targeted, racialized terrorism that targeted Jews in Europe. We use this word to recognize the hypocrisy of claims that Jewish settler riots are protecting Jewish safety.
Many Canadian and Israeli Jews, including many of our members, have ancestors who lived through these horrific, targeted antisemitic riots in Europe. Many of our members are also descended from, or are themselves, survivors of ethnic cleansing and genocide. These atrocities often started with pogroms that were officially ignored or officially enabled.
The comments by Smotrich on March 1 are a clear validation of the previous Sunday’s pogrom and constitute an explicit call for ethnic cleansing if not outright genocide. To this we say loudly and unequivocally: “not in our name.”
What we are witnessing in Israel is shocking, but it is by no means an aberration. Emboldened by the impunity afforded to them by the likes of Canada and other Western governments, the Israeli government and settler groups are simply more explicit about their settler-colonial aims to displace, replace and keep Palestinians out from the lands they claim. Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians, known as the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” which continues to this day, 75 years later.
IJV calls on Canada to clearly articulate what the Israeli government is calling for as ethnic cleansing and condemn Minister Smotrich’s comments in the strongest possible terms. Canada cannot claim to be vigilant against ethnic cleansing and genocide while refusing to name Israeli action and incitement to these heinous acts.
IJV also joins calls on the Canadian government to boycott the new far-right Israeli government and to advocate for international protection for the undefended Palestinian people living under Israeli rule.
Finally, IJV calls on organizations representing Canadian Jewish communities to loudly condemn the settler pogrom and government officials’ incitements to violence. Our communities need clear moral leadership to hold Israel to account.
Israel isn’t shying away from saying it as it is. Neither should Canadians.
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Editor’s note: This letter does not acknowledge that more than 850,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries in the 20 years following the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.