An Israeli member of parliament has received backlash after saying he wished that he could press a button that would expel Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Israel.
“If there was a button that could be pressed, that would remove all the Arabs from here, send them on an express train to Switzerland … I would press that button,” legislator Matan Kahana said in a video aired by a local Israeli broadcaster on Tuesday.
Kahana is a part of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s far-right Yamina party, and was recently a religious affairs minister.
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“The Arabs are telling themselves a different story, we know it’s untrue and nonsense,” Kahana said in remarks made to secondary school students.
“They are telling themselves that they are the ones who always lived here and we came and expelled them.”
The comments angered Palestinian lawmakers in the Knesset, some of whom are part of a fragile governing coalition made up of eight ideologically distinct parties.
“Matan Kahana, we are here because this is our homeland,” said Walid Taha, a member of the United Arab List (Ra’am) party which is part of the coalition.
“You, and those who think like you, will keep dragging your frustration because we simply won’t go away!”
Prominent Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, wrote, “There is a button that will remove you from the government and the Knesset. I’ll press it soon.”
Following a wave of criticism, Kahana rushed to say his remarks were “worded poorly”.
“Conversing [with] students yesterday, I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren’t going anywhere. As such, we must work to live in coexistence,” he said on Twitter.
“Our coalition is a courageous step towards this goal. Within this larger discussion, a few of my statements were worded poorly.”
There are some 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel and they make up about 20 percent of the population.
While they hold citizenship and have the right to vote, they have long faced discrimination and mistreatment. Many Palestinian communities inside Israel are also underfunded and marginalised.
Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in Israel, as well as the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip amount to apartheid, according to leading rights group Amnesty International.
Israel has also expanded its illegal settlement project by continuing to build fortified, Jewish-only, housing complexes on stolen Palestinian lands.
Settlements are considered illegal under international law and are perceived as a major obstacle to any potential peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian leadership.
Some 700,000 Israelis live in such settlements across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem – among more than three million Palestinians.