‘Repugnant’: State Department Slams Israeli Minister Who Called for Palestinian Town to Be ‘Erased’
by Andrew Bernard
State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday issued a rare and vigorous rebuke of an Israeli government official after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Israel to “erase” a Palestinian town.
“I want to be very clear about this,” Price said at a State Department press briefing. “These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting. And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence.”
Smotrich, who is the leader of the far-right Religious Zionist Party and part of the governing coalition, said at a financial conference Wednesday that Israel should “erase” the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara, where a Palestinian shot dead two Israelis on Sunday and which was then the site of a reprisal rampage by Israeli settlers which left one Palestinian dead and dozens of homes destroyed.
Smotrich was asked at the conference why he had liked a Tweet by a local councilman calling for the towns erasure.
“Why did I like the tweet? Because I think the village of Huwara should be wiped out,” Smotrich said. “The State of Israel should do this. God forbid, not private individuals. I called for calming the spirits and under no circumstances to be dragged into anarchy where people take the law into their own hands.”
In addition to his fiscal responsibilities as Finance Minister, under the coalition agreement Smotrich’s portfolio also includes broad civil administrative powers over the West Bank, including settlement construction.
Price also issued a rare demand for Israel’s leader to condemn a minister in his own coalition.
“We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments,” Price said. “We condemn, as we have consistently, terrorism and extremism in all of its forms, and we continue to urge that there be equal measures of accountability for extremist actions regardless of the background of the perpetrators or the victims.”
The State Department’s condemnation was joined by Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid.
“Smotrich does not represent the values of the State of Israel or the people of Israel,” Lapid Tweeted. “We are committed to the principles espoused in our Declaration of Independence. We will continue to defend our people against terrorism and we’ll do it in accordance with democratic values.”
According to Israeli media, Smotrich is set to attend an Israel Bonds conference in Washington from 12-14 March.
The State Department said it did not have any meetings to confirm between US and Israeli officials as yet. Israel Bonds did not respond to a request from The Algemeiner to comment.
Smotrich’s comments come amid a surge in violence in the West Bank as the security situation there continues to deteriorate. On Tuesday a Palestinian official said that it was “no secret” that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered Palestinian security forces to “confront” the IDF and Israeli settlers despite committing in a joint communique they agreed to with Israel at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday to de-escalate tensions.
Asked by The Algemeiner at Wednesday’s press briefing about the order, Price said the State Department was aware of it and condemned any incitement to violence.
“We call on the Palestinian Authority, including President Abbas, to clearly condemn terrorism against Israelis and terrorism in all its forms,” Price said. “The Palestinian Authority and Israel should be leaning in to security cooperation with each other at such a time. That is in the interest of both Palestinians and Israelis. It’s very consistent with what the parties agreed to at Aqaba.”