An Israeli deputy minister has been strongly criticised by his government colleagues for describing West Bank settlers as “subhuman”, leading to comparisons between him and the Nazis.
Speaking to the Knesset Channel, Yair Golan, a member of the left-wing Meretz party, warned that settlers would bring “catastrophe” upon Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens live in settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 war. The communities, which have grown significantly in size and number in recent decades, are illegal under international law and undermine the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.
"These are not people, these are subhumans. Despicable people and the corruption of the Jewish people. They must not be given any backing," said Mr Golan, the deputy economy minister.
His comments prompted a strong response from the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, who runs a coalition government comprising parties with starkly different ideologies.
Mr Bennett called the remark “shocking, a generalisation and bordering on a blood libel”, while his predecessor, the opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed Mr Golan’s words were "taken directly from Nazi terminology against the Jewish people”.
Meanwhile, foreign minister Yair Lapid, offered a milder rebuke. “I condemn any abusive discourse that drags Israeli society into polarising and destructive extremism,” he said.
Mr Golan defended his statement, saying he was referring to Israelis who reportedly defaced a Muslim cemetery near their homes. He later told Israeli Army Radio that most settlers were law-abiding.
“My words dealt with those who desecrate graves, attack innocent people and destroy property,” Mr Golan said.
“What is the right way to deal with such people? What are the right words to call them. It’s time to state the truth – this is not our Judaism,” he added.
The outcry highlights the large gulf of opinion between members of the coalition government. It also echoes the recent controversy that was sparked when the country’s public security minister, a politicians from the centrist Labor party, criticized settler violence against Palestinians.
Tensions in the West Bank escalated last week when a Palestinian man shot three people dead near the Homesh outpost.
Additional reporting by AP
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