US faces growing call to deny entry to Israel’s Bezalel Smotrich

AJ Staff

Al-Jazeera  /  March 2, 2023

Rights groups are urging Washington to revoke visa of Israeli minister who called for wiping out a Palestinian village.

Washington, DC The United States government is facing growing calls from advocacy groups, including Jewish-American organizations, to impose a visa ban on a far-right Israeli minister who called for wiping out a Palestinian village.

The US Department of State had denounced Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich’s comments on Wednesday, calling them “repugnant” and “disgusting”, but advocates have said verbal condemnation is not enough.

Smotrich, an ultranationalist who also oversees civilian administration in the occupied West Bank, is set to speak at a conference in Washington, DC later in March, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Wednesday.

“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it,” Smotrich was quoted as saying by Israeli media outlets after Jewish settlers ransacked the Palestinian town and burned down dozens of homes and cars.

Americans for Peace Now (APN), a US Jewish group that opposes the occupation, said Smotrich’s comments were a call for a war crime and urged President Joe Biden to deny him entry into the US.

“The United States must be clear. The only thing that should be wiped out is his violent and hateful ideology. It is unacceptable abroad and it is unacceptable here,” APN said in a letter to Biden that it urged supporters to sign.

“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.”

For its part, J Street, a Jewish-American group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, called on US officials to shun Smotrich.

“They should make clear that Smotrich’s comments and actions are immensely damaging to the US-Israel relationship,” J Street said in a statement.

“Additionally, the administration should make clear that comments promoting grave violations of human rights, such as those made by Smotrich, are grounds for re-examination of a visa for entry to the United States.”

Asked about the calls to deny entry to Smotrich, Department of State spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Thursday, “We don’t speak to individual visa records nor – as a general matter – to a particular individual’s eligibility for a US visa. Nevertheless, we’ll continue to make clear that we reject the comments from the minister, just as we did yesterday.”

The settlers’ attack on Huwara had sparked international outrage against the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with many Palestinians saying that Israeli forces watched on and did not try to stop the rampage.

Israel, accused of imposing a system of apartheid by leading human rights organizations like Amnesty International, receives at least $3.8bn of US aid annually.

Washington has been increasingly critical of the policies of Netanyahu’s far-right government, including the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land. However, the Biden administration regularly reasserts its “ironclad” commitment for Israel, ruling out practical measures to counter Israeli government policies.

Progressive advocates and lawmakers have said Washington should impose conditions on its aid to Israel, but Biden has repeatedly dismissed the idea.

T’ruah, a rights group that represents hundreds of rabbis across the US, called on the Biden administration this week to revoke Smotrich’s visa and urged American Jewish organizations to refuse to engage with him.

“Not only does his comment add to the pain of families and community members harmed by the violence in Huwara, it also adds to the increasing incitement from members of Netanyahu’s new far-right, extremist government,” T’ruah CEO, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, said in a statement.

Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian-led US advocacy group, encouraged supporters to sign on to a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to ban Smotrich from entering the country.

“The United States must ban the travel of Israel’s Bezalel Smotrich to the United States in March 2023 because of his statements that call for violence and atrocities against the Palestinian people,” the letter reads, describing the Israeli minister’s comments against Huwara as a “call for genocide”.

Democratic Senator Peter Welch said he shared a letter with Biden on Thursday, urging the US president to take a more active approach to push towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We have a choice: stand by passively as a withered two-state approach recedes into oblivion or do our best to reenergize it with more assertive efforts to persuade the Netanyahu government to stop further expansion of settlements in the West Bank, to halt all de facto annexations, and to reaffirm Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution,” the senator wrote.

“Any hope for peace and prosperity in the region depends on the United States making the right choice, right now.”



Rights groups urge US to ban Israel’s Smotrich over call to ‘wipe out’ Huwwara

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 2, 2023

Growing number of groups demand Israeli minister be sanctioned and barred from coming to the US for ‘incitement of genocide’.

A growing number of rights and advocacy groups are calling for the United States to issue an entry ban on Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, after he called for a Palestinian village to be “wiped out” earlier this week.

In separate statements, a number of groups ranging from organisations focused on human rights in the Middle East to rabbinical groups in the US have called for Washington to deny Smotrich a visa over his comments.

Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) on Wednesday called for both Smotrich’s visa to be revoked and for him to face sanctions. The rights group stated that his comments could amount to “incitement of genocide”.

“The US should immediately sanction Bezalel Smotrich for directly and brazenly encouraging mass violence against civilians,” Adam Shapiro, advocacy director for Israel-Palestine at Dawn, said in a statement.

“The United States must not give the impression that it condones his hateful and violent ideology and policies, and anything less would make the Biden Administration culpable in whatever violence comes next.”

The Adalah Justice Project has started an online petition demanding Smotrich be banned from the US, and so far has received more than 3,000 signatures.

“A state representative calling for the burning of homes and killing of people should not be given a platform to spread his racism and incite more violence against Palestinians,” Sumaya Awad, communications director at the Adalah Justice Project, told Middle East Eye.

Awad added that the US should also be pressured to ban groups “from raising money for illegal settlements built on Palestinian land and whose occupants most recently set ablaze the Palestinian village of Huwwara”.

When asked during a press briefing on Thursday whether the US would issue such a ban, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “We don’t speak to individual visa records – nor as a general matter – to a particular individual’s eligibility for a US visa.”

Price on Wednesday called Smotrich’s remarks “repugnant” and “disgusting” and called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disavow the comments.

“It is time for Biden to end US complicity in Israel’s violent apartheid. Under no circumstances should Bezalel Smotrich be permitted to visit the US,” Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, told MEE.

Rift between Israel and Jewish Americans

On Sunday, hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian towns and villages near Nablus, following a shooting that killed two Israelis in the town of Huwwara earlier that day.

In the rampage on Huwwara and other Palestinian villages, at least one Palestinian was killed and nearly 400 were wounded. Israel’s police have arrested 10 people for suspected involvement in the attack.

Before and after the mob violence took place, several Israeli politicians, including Smotrich, appeared to encourage or support the settlers’ actions.

Smotrich is expected to visit the US later this month and will meet with the New York-based Israel Bonds organisation.

He does not have any meetings scheduled with the Biden administration, and two US officials told Axios that “even if he asked for meetings with Biden officials, he likely wouldn’t get them”.

In addition to rights groups and progressive Jewish organisations, some liberal Zionist groups also condemned Smotrich’s remarks and called for him to be denied entry.

The pro-Israel group Americans for Peace Now is circulating its own petition urging Biden to deny Smotrich entry.

“Smotrich’s comments are even more dangerous now that Israel’s de jure annexation of the West Bank has made him effectively the governor of the territory, with broad oversight over most areas of civil

administration,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, a Jewish human rights group representing more than 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America.

Jacobs called on the Biden administration to decline any meetings with Smotrich if he is allowed into the country and also urged US Jewish groups to refuse to engage with him.

The calls add to a growing rift between the broader Jewish American community and the Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu and a far-right coalition.