‘Today, I won’t condemn’: Some Netanyahu allies are declining to decry Sunday’s West Bank settler riot


(JTA) — The day after hundreds of settlers rioted in the Palestinian West Bank village of Huwara, torching houses, shops and cars, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned their actions from the floor of parliament, declaring, “We won’t accept a reality where all do as they wish — igniting houses, torching cars, intentionally injuring innocents.”

Other lawmakers in Netanyahu’s coalition denounced the riot while expressing understanding for the settlers who rioted. But earlier on Monday, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s own Likud party, Tali Gottlieb, stood up at the same dais and struck a different note.

“They asked me: ‘Don’t you condemn what happened in Huwara?’ I said to them, ‘Not today,’” Gottlieb declared as Netanyahu looked on from the floor of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. “Tomorrow, but not today.”

Gottlieb attributed her delay in decrying the settler violence to her focus on the two Israeli victims of a shooting attack earlier on Sunday, when a gunman from Huwara killed two brothers driving on a thoroughfare that runs through the town. The settler riot in Huwara was a response to the attack. A Palestinian was killed in a town to Huwara’s south amid the riot, and dozens were injured.

“So today, I won’t condemn,” Gottlieb said subsequently in her speech. “Today, I am just sending a unifying message to the people of Israel.”

Gottlieb was not the only member of Knesset to stop short of condemning the riot. While many lawmakers in Netanyahu’s government have criticized the rampage and declared that it doesn’t represent Israel’s values, a number of his partners have shown sympathy for the rioters or even endorsed their actions. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, recently put in charge of settlers’ civilian affairs, indicated a measure of understanding for the riot, even as he came out against vigilantism.

The small but significant measure of support for the rioters comes as Israel’s government, which includes far-right parties, contends with a growing wave of violence in the West Bank and Israel. Terror attacks have killed more than a dozen Israelis, most of them civilians, while Israeli raids have killed dozens of Palestinian militants and a number of civilians. But if Sunday’s riot indicates that some settlers feel emboldened to settle scores on their own, the response to their actions shows that they have support from a few members of the sitting government and its allies.

“A closed, burnt Huwara — that’s what I want to see,” said Zvika Fogel, a lawmaker from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, according to the Times of Israel. “That’s the only way to achieve deterrence. After a murder like yesterday’s, we need burning villages when the IDF doesn’t act.”

The chair of Fogel’s party, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, gave a speech from the site of an illegal West Bank settlement outpost in which he called for the Israeli military to “cease the policy of containment” and said “the enemy needs to be cut down.” He evinced sympathy for the rioters even as he condemned their actions.

“I understand the difficult feelings, but this is not the way,” he said. “We do not take the law into our own hands. The government of Israel, the state of Israel, the security forces, they are the ones who need to cut down our enemies.”

Yishai Fleischer, a pro-settler activist who has served as Ben-Gvir’s spokesman, also sympathized with the rioters while criticizing their actions. “Vigilante behavior is generally wrong and is certainly illegal,” he tweeted. “However, years of Israel’s abandonment of policing and looking away from the jihadism, illegal weapons, and no-go zones, that have grown within us – have led to wanton Arab terrorism – and now to a human reaction.”

Another advocate for the settlements, Smotrich, condemned vigilantism alongside other Israeli leaders, writing on Twitter, “It is forbidden to take the law into one’s hands and create dangerous anarchy that will likely go out of control and cost human life.”

But screenshots show that he liked a since-deleted tweet from a regional settlement official declaring that Huwara “needs to be wiped out today.”

Later in the day, another Twitter user wrote a viral series of tweets both condemning the riot and endorsing “collective punishment of the family and surroundings of the terrorist.” The tweets also appeared to compare the riot with the weekly nonviolent mass protests in Tel Aviv of Israel’s proposed judicial reform.

Smotrich shared the tweets along with the message: “The whole thread.”