US approves Smotrich visa despite his calls for Palestinian town to be ‘wiped out’

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 9, 2023

A myriad of rights groups called for the far-right minister to be denied entry into the US over his comments on Huwwara attack.

The US has approved the “diplomatic visa” request for far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich despite pressure from rights groups to deny him entry into the country, according to the Israeli minister’s office.

Smotrich is set to visit Washington on Sunday and will speak at the Israel Bonds conference. Several outlets, including Axios, The Times of Israel, and Haaretz reported the approval of the visa, citing Smotrich’s office.

A senior US official told Axios that during the discussions at the State Department, it was understood that there is a “very high bar” for denying a diplomatic visa for a minister of an American ally.

Earlier this month, he called for the Palestinian village of Huwwara to be “wiped out”, comments that coincided with hundreds of Jewish settlers violently rampaging through the streets of Huwwara, killing one person, injuring hundreds of others, and burning dozens of cars. The settler riot, or what many are calling a pogrom, came after a shooting that killed two Israelis in the town of Huwwara earlier that day.

The US quickly condemned Smotrich’s remarks. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting”.

A myriad of rights groups, ranging from Palestinian advocacy groups to pro-Israel organizations, called for the far-right minister to be denied entry into the US. 

Some activists pointed to the US decision in 2005 to revoke a visa for Narendra Modi, then-chief minister of India’s Gujarat province during the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat. The US denied Modi a visa based on a 1998 US law regarding freedom of religion.

Smotrich appeared to try and walk back his remarks amid signs that pressure was mounting on the Biden administration over his trip. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said he didn’t mean to call for violence against civilians, claiming that he realized his remarks would be interpreted as a military order.

Smotrich – who is also responsible for Israel’s civil administration in the occupied West Bank – said: “The Palestinian village of Huwwara should be wiped out. The state needs to do it and not private citizens.”

While the Huwwara attacks were taking place, he also took to Twitter to promote a thread that recommended the “collective punishment of the terrorist’s family and environment as an effective and necessary tool in asymmetric warfare”.

Collective punishment of occupied populations is illegal under international law.

He also demanded that the Israeli army “hit Palestinian cities, with tanks and helicopters, mercilessly, in a way that would convey that the owner of the house has gone mad”. 

Middle East Eye previously reached out to the State Department regarding deliberations over the visa and was referred to spokesperson Ned Price’s comments during a press briefing last week, in which he said: “We don’t speak to individual visa records nor, as a general matter, to a particular individual’s eligibility for a US visa.”