Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2023. (Photo Credit Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The US State Department is considering whether to deny Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich a visa ahead of his expected visit to the US next week, though no decision has yet been made. The internal consultations came after Smotrich encouraged the Israeli state to “wipe out” the Palestinian village of Huwara, Axios reported on 5 March.
On 26 February, dozens of Israeli settlers descended on Huwara, attacking Palestinians with metal rods and rocks.
The rampage by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank village killed one Palestinian, injured hundreds, and destroyed dozens of homes and vehicles. According to eyewitness reports, the Israeli military witnessed the violence but took no action to stop it. The Israeli military estimated that between 300 and 400 people participated in the pogrom.
Asked during a forum at a business conference why he liked a tweet in the wake of the pogrom that called for the Palestinian village to be destroyed, Smotrich responded: “Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it, not, God forbid, private individuals.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday condemned Smotrich’s remarks on Huwara, calling them “irresponsible, disgusting and repugnant.”
Meanwhile, the Israel Policy Forum, a left-wing US Jewish group, issued a statement opposing Smotrich’s upcoming visit, saying that it “would be an affront to American Jewish values.”
“As American Jews committed to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state; to a robust US-Israel relationship; and to Jewish peoplehood that fully encompasses Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities, we are opposed to Bezalel Smotrich visiting the United States later this month in his capacity as Israel’s finance minister, and we call on all pro-Israel Americans to understand that welcoming Smotrich here will harm, rather than help, support for Israel,” the organization said in a statement.
“We reject the notion that someone must be accorded respect simply by dint of serving in the Israeli government. His presence in the US to address primarily Jewish audiences would be an affront to American Jewish values, and he should not be given a platform in our community, all the more so in light of his most recent comments about” Huwara, it said.
Left-wing Zionist organizations have typically supported a more gradual expropriation of Palestinian lands, seeing this as a more effective strategy for realizing the Zionist project, as opposed to the abrupt and violent mass displacement of Palestinians advocated by right-wing and revisionist Zionist groups, as represented by Smoltrich.
Last week, former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Smotrich “wants to cause another Palestinian Nakba.”
In 1947, pre-state militias initiated a policy of “transfer” to forcibly expel some 750,00 Palestinians from their homes. This process of ethnic cleansing, known by Palestinians as the Catastrophe, or Nakba, allowed Zionist leaders to acquire the territory necessary for the creation of a new state with a Jewish majority, namely Israel. As Israeli historian Benny Morris has shown, the transfer campaign was not only deliberate but accompanied by many massacres and rapes at the hands of such militias.