Israel PM backs far-right minister in row over settler comments

Israel PM backs far-right minister in row over settler comments
Ben Gvir shared his anti-Palestinian views in an interview on Wednesday, sparkling criticism and controversy.
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Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is part of Netanyahu's far right cabinet. (Photo by AMIR COHEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support on Friday for firebrand Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir following a row over remarks backing settlers' rights in the occupied West Bank.

Ben Gvir had sparked backlash, including from supermodel Bella Hadid, when he defended restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and settlers' rights to free movement in a Wednesday interview.

"My right, and that of my wife and children, to travel on the roads of Judea and Samaria, is more important than the freedom of movement of Arabs," he told state television, using Israel's term for the West Bank.

His remarks sparked a row with supermodel Hadid, whose father is Palestinian and who posted on Instagram criticising Ben Gvir's remarks, prompting the firebrand minister to take to X, formerly Twitter, and describe her as an "Israel hater".

Ben Gvir is an outspoken champion of the interests of Israelis who live in West Bank settlements considered illegal under international law. Excluding annexed east Jerusalem, the West Bank is home to nearly three million Palestinians and around 490,000 Israeli settlers.

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Netanyahu on Friday threw his weight behind Ben Gvir, saying: "Israel allows maximum freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria for both Israelis and Palestinians.

"Unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists take advantage of this freedom of movement to murder Israeli women, children and families," a statement from his office said.

The statement said recent attacks have resulted in "special security measures in these areas".

"This is what minister Ben-Gvir meant when he said 'the right to life precedes freedom of movement'," it added.

Ben Gvir's remarks also drew sharp criticism from the Palestinian Authority, which described them as "racist and heinous" and labelled the minister a "fascist".

Ben-Gvir was charged more than 50 times in his youth with incitement to violence or hate speech and was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism.

The latest surge of Israli assults on the West Bank  has resulted  in near-daily army raids and settler violence against Palestinians.

At least 219 Palestinians have been killed so far this year alone.