Updated Mar 1, 2023 - World

U.S. says Israeli minister's call to wipe out Palestinian town is "disgusting"

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Jan. 11. Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's call for the Palestinian village of Hawara to be wiped out by the Israeli government is "irresponsible, repugnant and disgusting," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Smotrich, a far-right Israeli settler known for his Jewish supremacist rhetoric, is also the minister in the Ministry of Defense in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank. Many, including opposition leader Yair Lapid, have accused Smotrich of inciting "war crimes" over his comments and actions related to the violence in Hawara.

  • Smotrich later Wednesday issued a statement appearing to walk back the comments.

Driving the news: After Israeli authorities said a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis who were driving in Hawara on Sunday, Smotrich liked a tweet that called for the village to be wiped off the map.

  • Shortly after, hundreds of settlers went on a rampage in Hawara, attacking Palestinians and torching several homes and cars. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were wounded.
  • Yehuda Fuchs, the commander of the IDF Central Command, called the settler attack "a pogrom" — a term used to describe attacks against Jews in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century.

What they're saying: Asked at a public conference on Wednesday why he liked the since-deleted tweet about Hawara, Smotrich said in comments caught on camera: “Because I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it."

  • Following outrage later Wednesday, Smotrich in a statement blamed the media for manipulating his comments and stressed he didn’t mean to wipe the village off the map “but only to act in a surgical way against terrorists and their supporters in the village in order to restore the security.”

Price at a briefing later Wednesday said the Biden administration condemns Smotrich’s comments and defines them as “incitement to violence."

  • Price added that the U.S. calls on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly disavow his minister's remarks. Netanyahu has not spoken publicly about Smotrich's comments.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian minister for civilian affairs, on Twitter called for "international human rights organizations" to prosecute Smotrich "on charges of calling for massacres against Palestinians."

  • "The terrorist Smotrich calls for erasing #Howara from existence. A racist terrorist invitation announced by a terrorist minister in the occupation government," he added.

What to watch: Smotrich is expected to visit the U.S. the second week of March for a meeting of the Israel Bonds organization.

  • Israeli officials said he hasn't asked for any meetings with the Biden administration.
  • Two U.S. officials told Axios that even if he asked for meetings with Biden officials, he likely wouldn't get them.

Go deeper: Israel often did not prevent settler attacks against Palestinians in 2021, U.S. report finds

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated with Hussein al-Sheikh's and Ned Price's comments.

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