Israel’s “Humanitarian” Expulsion: The Israeli right is capitalizing on the aftermath of October 7th to build support for a permanent transfer of Palestinians out of Gaza. (Jonathan Shamir, December 12, 2023, Jewish Currents)

The op-ed testifies to the growing prominence of what was once an extremist position within Israel: the call to push the remaining Palestinians out of historic Palestine. In the 1980s and ’90s, the idea of total Palestinian expulsion—prohibited under international law—was the sole bailiwick of extremist politicians such as Rehavam Ze’evi and Rabbi Meir Kahane. The proposal was largely absent from mainstream Israeli public discourse in the subsequent decades, but has experienced a quiet resurgence that has paralleled the recent political ascendance of the Israeli far right. In 2016, a Pew survey found that almost half of Israeli Jews supported the idea that Arabs should be “expelled or transferred from Israel.” According to Jewish studies scholar Shaul Magid, the far right’s success in the November 2022 election further “revived the idea of transfer.” As Israelis “increasingly feel that it’s either us or them” in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7th attacks, Magid said, forced transfer out of Gaza, in particular, has become a live political option.

Once discussed plainly as a demographic and security strategy, the idea of expulsion is now being presented as a humanitarian response to the devastation in Gaza. Danon and Ben-Barak’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, which was accompanied with a publicity tour of TV studios in Israel and abroad, has been a prominent staging ground for this reframe. So far, the lawmakers’ call for a “moral” expulsion has met with minimal pushback. Indeed, Danon’s claim in an MSNBC interview that the proposal would “help many families in Gaza” went completely unchallenged. Ben-Barak found similar success on Israel’s Channel 12—the country’s most watched TV station—where journalist Ohad Hamo responded to his proposal by saying that “it is the dream of every young Gazan to emigrate.” According to Magid, this repackaging of expulsion as humanitarianism has allowed the idea to take root among mainstream Israelis. Oren Persico, a journalist at the independent Israeli media watchdog The Seventh Eye, told Jewish Currents that “transfer is a prelude for the repopulation of Gaza by Jews,” and the popularity of both ideas is rising simultaneously: According to a recent Channel 12 poll, 44% of Israelis are now supportive of reestablishing Jewish settlements in Gaza. “While Kahane is still a persona non-grata,” Magid told Jewish Currents, his “ideas have become normalized, even taking on a semblance of liberalism. This allows people to feel a sense of moral comfort with the destruction [of Gaza].”

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