Mondoweiss / March 10, 2023
The State Department has approved a visa for Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister who called for the village of Huwwara to be destroyed as Jewish settler violence has surged in the West Bank.
The U.S. State Department has approved a diplomatic visa for right-wing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
Human rights groups had called on the Biden administration to reject Smotrich’s request after he called for the Palestinian village of Huwwara to be “wiped out” earlier this month. His comments came amid a surge of settler violence in the area that resulted in one Palestinian being killed, hundreds being injured, and huge amounts of property destroyed.
The remarks were immediately condemned by the Biden administration with State Department spokesman Ned Price calling them “irresponsible,” “repugnant,” and “disgusting.”
Smotrich apologized for his comments last week. “People sometimes use harsh words they don’t mean in order to pass a message,” he tweeted. “It happens to everyone.”
Smotrich is scheduled to address an Israel Bonds meeting in Washington, D.C. that begins on March 12. The CEO of Israel Bonds is Dani Naveh, a former Likud Party minister and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first cabinet secretary. Press are not permitted at the event.
A senior U.S. official told Axios‘ Barak Ravid that the State Department had internal discussions on the issue, but that there’s a very high bar for denying a diplomatic visa to a United States ally.
In 2019 the U.S. denied a visa to senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi for unspecified reasons. In 2012 former Knesset member Michael Ben Ari was denied a visa over connections to a “terrorist organization,” presumably the defunct Zionist party Kach.
“Let’s recap: Israeli terrorists attacked a Palestinian village,” tweeted Bernie Sanders’ former foreign policy advisor Matt Duss. “Smotrich then incited more terrorism. Israeli terrorists then attacked the village again. My question is: what would Smotrich actually have to do to have a visa denied? Answer: be Palestinian.”
“The US just granted genocider Smotrich a diplomatic visa,” tweeted the attorney and author Noura Erakat. “The depth of anti-Palestinian racism is so unabashed and bold. How much must we endure before there is a modicum of accountability? Our lives matter and our freedom will vindicate this revolting record.”
Smotrich’s visit has received widespread criticism, even from some supporters of Israel. More than 100 Jewish American leaders signed onto a statement opposing the visit. “As American Jews committed to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state; to a robust U.S.-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,” it reads. “Smotrich has long expressed views that are abhorrent to the vast majority of American Jews, from anti-Arab racism, to virulent homophobia, to a full-throated embrace of Jewish supremacy. To this list, we can now add his endorsement of violence against innocents based on their ethnic heritage.”
The group JVP Action delivered a petition to the White House calling on Biden to reverse the visa decision. “Smotrich is saying out loud what Israeli government policy has long been: try to wipe Palestinians off of the map,” it reads. “This policy is only accelerating under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right extremist coalition government, which is launching an escalated phase of state violence against Palestinians. In the first six weeks of 2023, Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 65 Palestinians. Last year was already the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2004, and 2023 is now set to out-pace it.”
The progressive Jewish group IfNotNow has organized a protest outside The White House on the day of Israel Bonds event, and JVP’s DC chapter is holding an action at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where Smotrich will be speaking.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss