Minister to security heads who slammed settler terror: ‘Who are you? Wagner Group?’

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Far-right minister Orit Strock likened the leaders of the military and the security establishment to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group on Monday for saying that extremist settlers who have attacked Palestinians in recent days were engaged in “terrorism.”

“They issued a message about Jewish nationalist terrorism. Who do you think you are? The Wagner Group?” she said, referring to the Russian mercenaries who rebelled against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Who are you to issue such a message under the government’s nose? Are they going to preach to us?” said Strock, the settlements and national missions minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition.

Following a deadly West Bank terror attack last week, groups of settlers have fired weapons, set fire to vehicles and homes, and ripped up books at a mosque during rampages through several Palestinian towns.

The rampages were branded “nationalist terrorism in the full sense of the term” by Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai in a joint statement on Saturday.

Strock said Monday in comments to the Kol BaRama Haredi radio station, cited by Hebrew-language media, that while she was against the actions of the rampaging settlers, “it is a shame and disgrace to call these events nationalist terrorism.”

(R) Police chief Kobi Shabtai at the Knesset, June 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90) (C) Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) (L) Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, September 11, 2022 in Herzliya (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster about the events on Saturday when several dozen settlers rampaged through the West Bank village of Umm Safa firing weapons and setting cars and homes alight, Strock called for restraint on the part of the settlers but also branded Umm Safa a “village of murderers.”

“I think that such things should not be done under any circumstances, and I use this platform to call on anyone who thinks of doing this type of action in the future not to do it. This is not our way at all, to harm people in this way,” Strock said.

“In a normal country, the ones who should act against a village of murderers are the security forces,” she said.

A screenshot from video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Shortly after her initial comments, Strock apologized for referring to the heads of the army, Shin Bet and police as the Wagner Group.

“However, I do not hold back from the objective criticism that the heads of our security systems, as dedicated and worthy of appreciation as they are, should not be preachers of morality but producers of security,” she said.

Strock was quickly slammed by opposition politicians.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Strock was not worthy of a ministerial position for her attack on the “heroes of Israel.”

“A minister in Israel who compares the army chief of staff, the police commissioner and the head of the Shin Bet to rebel mercenaries is not worthy and cannot sit in the Israeli government,” Lapid tweeted.

“Netanyahu must stop the madness and rein in his delusional irresponsible ministers. The citizens of Israel owe their lives to [IDF chief] Herzi Halevi, [police chief] Kobi Shabtai and [Shin Bet chief] Ronen Bar, the heroes and guardians of Israel,” Lapid said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at an event organized by Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem on May 31, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Unity leader Benny Gantz called for Netanyahu to immediately fire Strock for the “moral disgrace” of her comments.

“The comparison of the heads of the security system to the Wagner Group is a moral disgrace and an injury to the security of the state. Netanyahu should fire Orit Strock today. Every minute she serves as a minister in the government is a message of security lawlessness, a nod to anarchists and an attack on the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israel Police,” Gantz said.

“We must not be satisfied with condemnations .The message must be in actions. The time has come to put an end to the anarchy that the Israeli government is creating in the security of the state,” he said.

National Unity party chair MK Benny Gantz gives a press statement in the southern town of Sderot, May 3, 2023. (Flash90)

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli noted that Netanyahu had brought far-right Strock to the cabinet table.

“Netanyahu brought Orit Strock, the representative of the hilltop youth who are the perpetrators of settler terrorism, to the government table – no wonder she attacks the heads of the Israeli security establishment,” Michaeli tweeted.

“We are not on the same side. She is on the side of the supporters of terrorism,” Michaeli said.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli at a joint press conference with opposition party heads at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Strock was not the only far-right minister in Netanyahu’s hardline government to reject the harsh criticism leveled by the military and the defense establishment against the “terrorism” of extremist settlers.

“The attempt to create an equivalency between murderous Arab terror and [Israeli] civilian counter-actions, however serious they may be, is morally wrong and dangerous on a practical level,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of Strock’s far-right Religious Zionism party, wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who on Friday urged Jewish settlers to “head for the hilltops” to establish and expand illegal outposts in response to Palestinian terror, said law enforcement should enforce policies equally between communities and not “pick and choose” where to apply the law.

The far-right minister said it was unacceptable that administrative detentions, for example, should “be used only against settlers, and not against [criminals] in Arab society.”

Hours after the June 20 terror attack near Eli in which four Israelis were killed, an unknown number of settler vigilantes rampaged through several Palestinian towns in the northern West Bank, including Huwara, the scene of another deadly settler riot earlier this year after a terror attack that killed two Israeli brothers.

Shortly after the victims of the Eli attack were buried the next day, hundreds of settlers also tore through the Palestinian towns of Turmus Ayya and Urif, shooting at residents, setting homes, cars and fields on fire and terrorizing residents. One Palestinian, 27-year-old Omar Qattin, was killed in unclear circumstances in Turmus Ayya.

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