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

Growing number of groups demand Israeli minister be sanctioned and barred from coming to the US for 'incitement of genocide'
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on 23 February 2023.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on 23 February 2023 (Reuters)
By MEE staff in Washington

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.

US condemns Smotrich's 'repugnant, disgusting' call for Israel to wipe out Huwwara
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"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.

'Under no circumstances should Bezalel Smotrich be permitted to visit the US'

- Beth Miller, Jewish Voice for Peace Action

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. 

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