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Jewish groups: Israel's Smotrich 'not welcome' in US after bigoted comments

Liberal Jewish organizations condemned the statement made Wednesday by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich about "wiping out" the Palestinian village of Huwara.
Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli far-right lawmaker and leader of the Religious Zionist party, speaks during a rally with supporters, Sderot, Israel, Oct. 26, 2022.

A number of US Jewish groups have voiced their opposition to the upcoming visit this month by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, following his "repugnant" comments on Wednesday advocating for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be "wiped out." 

Leading Jewish American lobby group J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the rabbinical group T'ruah have condemned Smotrich's statements and said he should not be welcomed in the United States. 

Smotrich, a prominent member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, advocated publicly for demolishing the West Bank village of Huwara, home to nearly 7,000 Palestinians. Two Israeli brothers were killed last Sunday in Huwara and settlers rioted, storming the village to burn down 35 homes and damage dozens of houses and cars.

Speaking at an economic conference Wednesday, the minister said, "The village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it.”

The Israeli finance chief is expected to visit Washington on March 12 for a conference at the Israel Bonds organization, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported. The Bonds group works closely with the Israeli Finance Ministry to encourage investments in Israel and determine where to invest in the country’s economy.

But in the last 24 hours, Jewish groups have said that Smotrich is not welcome. 

A statement published by J Street called on the Biden administration to condemn Smotrich’s threats and not meet with him.

"[The administration] should ensure that no US government officials will legitimize his extremism by meeting with him, either in the United States or elsewhere. They should make clear that Smotrich’s comments and actions are immensely damaging to the US-Israel relationship. Additionally, the administration should make clear that comments promoting grave violations of human rights, such as those made by Smotrich, are grounds for reexamination of a visa for entry to the United States,” J Street said. 

The Americans For Peace Now organization condemned Smotrich's words on Wednesday. Referring to his plans to travel to Washington, the group said, ''Now Smotrich wants to bring his hatred to US soil. He has plans to travel to the United States later this month. We’re here to say that he is not welcome.'' 

T'ruah, the Rabbinical Call for Human Rights, said Wednesday, “In light of Bezalel Smotrich’s recent statement that Huwara should be ‘wiped out’ by the State of Israel, T’ruah calls for the visa for his upcoming trip to the United States to be revoked on the basis of his incitement and endorsement of terror."

The US State Department also spoke out against Smotrich’s words Wednesday, saying they “amount to incitement to violence." It urged Netanyahu to condemn them. “These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting. Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Interviewed on Thursday by CNN about Smotrich's statement, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said, “Notwithstanding the fact that Israel has been subjected to a recent wave of horrific terror attacks against its civilians, it is absolutely not Israeli policy and it’s against our values to respond by wiping out civilian villages.”

In December, Jewish American groups already warned that Netanyahu’s ultra-right cabinet members, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power party and Smotrich would not be welcomed in the United States. A group of 330 rabbis pledged Dec. 22 to block members of Smotrich’s ultranationalist bloc in the government from speaking at their synagogues. An open letter published by the rabbis read that they will not invite members of the bloc “to speak at our congregations and organizations. We will speak out against their participation in other fora across our communities. We will encourage the boards of our congregations and organizations to join us in this protest as a demonstration of our commitment to our Jewish and democratic values.”

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