LONDON: The White House has announced that Israel’s finance minister, who called for a flashpoint Palestinian town to be “erased,” will not meet officials from the Biden administration during his visit to the US next week, Israeli media reported.
Bezalel Smotrich, who will be making his first trip to Washington since taking up his ministerial position, will not meet US Treasury Secretary Jen Yellen or any other government officials, the White House told a press briefing on Friday.
Smotrich made the comments at a conference on Wednesday amid a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks and Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.
When questioned about a weekend settler rampage through the Palestinian village of Hawara, which an Israeli general on Tuesday described as a “pogrom,” Smotrich said: “I think that Hawara needs to be erased.”
The rampage was sparked by the shooting of two Israeli brothers by a suspected Palestinian militant, which came days after Israeli forces launched their deadliest West Bank raid in nearly 20 years, leaving 11 Palestinians dead in the northern city of Nablus.
Smotrich is scheduled to speak at the Israel Bonds annual conference in Washington from March 12-14.
His comments had drawn international condemnation, with the UN human rights chief Volker Turk denouncing them as “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility.”
The US State Department described his comments as an incitement to violence and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly disavow it.
“They were irresponsible, they were repugnant, they were disgusting,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.
“Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence,” he said.
Some 120 American Jewish leaders on Friday released a joint statement calling for a boycott against Smotrich’s visit. It said he “should not be given a platform in our community,” Israeli media reported.
“The list of signatories on the statement demonstrated that the desire to disassociate with Smotrich extended to more mainstream elements of the Jewish community and well beyond the more progressive groups who already called for the minister to be denied a visa to get into the country,” The Times of Israel reported.
Representatives from 19 countries — including France, Germany, Japan and the UK — visited Hawara on Saturday and issued a joint statement “condemn(ing) in the strongest terms the heinous and violent acts committed by settlers."
'I did not mean harm'
Following the growing outrage, Smotrich issued a statement saying the media had misinterpreted them, without retracting his call for the village to be erased.
“It is possible that the word was wrong,” Smotrich told local television on Saturday.
“I did not mean harm to innocents when I said that Hawara should be wiped out,” he tweeted Saturday. "People sometimes use harsh expressions that they don't mean to convey a harsh message. It happens to everyone."
(With Reuters and AFP)