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Protests in Washington against Israel's far-right minister Smotrich

The State Department agreed to offer a diplomatic visa, but senior officials refused to meet with Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on his visit to Washington.
Protesters gathered outside Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington to condemn Smotrich visit.

Israelis and US Jews rallied on Sunday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, where Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was giving a speech to the annual Israel Bonds convention.

Demonstrators were protesting against the judicial overhaul advanced by the Netanyahu government, as well as against far-right statements and policies advanced by Smotrich himself. Protesters carried signs with slogans such as "Shame on Smotrich.” The demonstration was organized by an alliance of human rights and peace groups, including J Street, T'ruah, Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Americans For Peace Now.

Other rallies against the Israeli judicial overhaul plan took place Sunday morning in New York and in London. 

Smotrich heads the pro-settler far-right Religious Zionism party, member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Over the years, he had made several controversial statements, including comments against Arabs and against the LGBTQ community. In 2015, he participated at a march that included both people and dogs, to protest against the Jerusalem gay pride parade.

The same year, he claimed that the Dawabshe incident, where members of a Palestinian family were killed when their home was torched by settlers, was not an act of terror. In 2016, he said that after giving birth, his wife preferred to be hospitalized in a room without any Arab women.

Two weeks ago, Smotrich advocated publicly for demolishing the West Bank village of Huwara, home to nearly 7,000 Palestinians. After the killing of two Israeli brothers when passing through the village, settlers stormed Huwara, burning down 35 homes, damaging dozens of houses and cars, and traumatizing the local residents. Asked in an interview why he “liked” a tweet by Samaria Regional Council Deputy Mayor Davidi Ben Zion that called to "wipe out" Huwara, Smotrich said, “Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it.”

US and European officials, as well as Jewish groups in many countries, condemned the Huwara statement. Publications indicated that the Biden administration considered refusing his request for a visa, ahead of his scheduled participation in the Israel Bonds convention. Then, last Thursday, Smotrich published a post taking back his comment. In reaction, the State Department agreed to offer him a diplomatic visa. Still, the administration said no senior official will meet with him while visiting Washington. Smotrich walked back again on his comment during the speech he delivered at the Israel Bonds convention.

After his trip to Washington, Smotrich is scheduled to travel to Paris, to participate in a memorial service for a French Likud party member. The French Foreign Ministry said last Thursday they were not notified officially about the visit, but in any case, will have no contact with Smotrich.

On Sunday, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Ofir Sofer, from Smotrich’s party, traveled to Paris to take part in a conference on immigration to Israel. A few people interrupted his speech at the conference, shouting, "Shame." The French Foreign Ministry told Al-Monitor it was not notified of the minister's visit and no official meetings were planned for him.

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