The US supermodel Bella Hadid and the Israeli national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have engaged in a heated exchange on social media over the issue of Palestinian rights in the occupied West Bank. The spat was triggered by Ben-Gvir’s controversial statement that the right to life and movement for Jewish settlers in illegal settlements outweighed the right to movement for Palestinians.
Ben-Gvir, who is the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party and a resident of the settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, made the remark in an interview with N12 News on Wednesday. He said that the restrictions imposed on Palestinians by Israel, such as checkpoints and roadblocks, were necessary to protect his family’s security.
“My right, my wife’s right, my children’s right to travel on the roads of Judea and Samaria is more important than the right to movement for Arabs,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew name for the West Bank. He then addressed a well-known Arab Israeli television host: “Sorry, Mohammad, but that’s the reality.”
His comment sparked outrage among Palestinians and human rights activists, who denounced it as “racist and heinous” and “inflammatory” and accused him of promoting a system of “Jewish supremacy” and “apartheid” in the occupied territory. The US State Department also joined the criticism, saying it strongly condemned “Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory comments” and “all racist rhetoric”.
Bella Hadid, who was born in the US to a Palestinian father and has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, also slammed Ben-Gvir’s comment on Instagram, where she has nearly 60 million followers. She posted a clip of his interview along with a video from leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem showing Israeli soldiers in Hebron telling a resident that Palestinians are not allowed to walk on a certain street because it is reserved for Jews.
“In no place, no time, especially in 2023 should one life be more valuable than another’s. Especially simply because of their ethnicity, culture or pure hatred,” she wrote in a post on Thursday. She also asked: “Does this remind anyone of anything?”
Ben-Gvir responded in a statement on Friday, calling Hadid an “Israel hater” and accusing her of sharing only a segment of the interview on her social media account in order to portray him as a racist and evil. He said he would not apologize and would repeat his statement “another 1,000 times”.
The online feud between Hadid and Ben-Gvir reflects the deepening tensions and violence in the West Bank, where more than 700,000 Israelis live in settlements that are considered illegal by most of the international community and where Palestinians seek to establish their future state. The region has witnessed several deadly attacks by both settlers and Palestinians in recent months, as well as clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters.
The exchange also highlights the growing role of social media as a platform for activism and advocacy on both sides of the conflict. Hadid and her sister Gigi, who is also a supermodel, have used their online influence to raise awareness and express solidarity with Palestinians, especially during the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May. Ben-Gvir, on the other hand, has used his social media accounts to incite violence and hatred against Palestinians and Arabs, according to critics.