White House, Jewish groups say will not meet Smotrich during US visit

White House, Jewish groups say will not meet Smotrich during US visit
Israel's finance minister will not meet officials at the White House, Washington has said, following the ultra-nationalist's comments on wiping out a Palestinian village.
4 min read
03 March, 2023
Netanyahu's government includes ministers with radical views on Palestinians [Getty/archive]

US officials and a pro-Israel American lobby group will not meet a far-right Israeli minister, due to visit Washington next week, following his recent comments saying a Palestinian village should be erased.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's incendiary comments came after an Israeli settler pogrom in the occupied West Bank village of Hawara, which saw Palestinian vehicles and homes torched. One Palestinian man was killed in the attacks.

 "I believe the village of Hawara should be wiped off the earth," Smotrich said. "The Israeli government needs to do it and not private citizens." 

His comments echo those of other members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's extreme-right government, such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, which activists say amount to incitement and violence against Palestinians.

Smotrich is expected to visit the US next week to meet with leaders of an organisation called Israel Bonds.

Israel Bonds – involved in financial affairs - justified the visit by saying their meeting with Smotrich was "a matter of routine" as they work closely with Israel's finance ministry.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded to Smotrich's comments on Hawara on Thursday, saying they "were irresponsible" and called them "repugnant and disgusting".

There have been calls on the US to bar entry to Smotrich following the calls to wipe out the Palestinian village.

Price said during a briefing that he could not comment on Smotrich's eligibility to enter the US and that the matter should be referred to Israel.

No government meetings were scheduled for Smotrich's trip, including with his US counterpart at the Treasury, National Security Council spokeswoman confirmed, according to reports.

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said she was "horrified" by the rampage in Hawara.

"This comes against the backdrop of massive settlement expansion and de facto annexation of the West Bank by the most rightwing Israeli government in history—moves that would erase any hope for a two-state solution," she said in a statement.

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The Minnesota representative called on the US to seek full accountability for violations of international law, and ensure American taxpayers money were not funding human rights violations in occupied Palestinian territories.

"Truly putting human rights at the center of foreign policy and supporting a rules-based international order means demanding accountability for any violations, whether they are our allies or adversaries."

A number of liberal Jewish groups have called on the US government to bar Smotrich from entering.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would not be meeting with Smotrich, a spokesperson of the powerful pro-Israel lobby said.

Four other Jewish groups calling on the government to ban Smotrich's entry are Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, T'ruah, and Jewish Voice for Peace, which call for one or two state solutions.

The Zionist Organization of America, which backs Israel’s policies on annexing more land in occupied Palestinian territories and expanding on settlement building – deemed illegal by most of the international community – said the boycott of Smotrich "was a mistake."

"Nobody has to agree with them or disagree with them," the group said. "But they should speak and whoever wants to challenge them, challenge them, criticise them, disagree with them."

Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionism party, is fully supportive of building new Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank, recently defying a pledge by Netanyahu to freeze construction after calls by multiple European countries, the US and the UN to stop.

Upon forming his new government, Netanyahu handed Smotrich considerable power in approving the construction of settlements.