Updated Mar 9, 2023 - World

Israeli minister who called for Palestinian town to be wiped out gets U.S. visa

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

The State Department approved the request of the far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for a "diplomatic visa" ahead of his trip to Washington next week, a source with direct knowledge told Axios and Smotrich's office confirmed on Thursday.

Why it matters: The Biden administration faced pressure from several Jewish organizations and other groups in the U.S. to deny Smotrich's visa request over his call for the Israeli government to "wipe out" the Palestinian village of Hawara.

  • The State Department, which condemned Smotrich's Hawara comments, held internal consultations on whether to deny Smotrich a visa, as Axios previously reported.
  • A State Department spokesperson said that "visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases."

The big picture: Smotrich said in a tweet on Saturday that he didn't mean to call for harming innocent civilians. "People sometimes use harsh words they don't mean in order to pass a message. It happens to everyone," he said. He also issued an apology late Wednesday.

  • He is expected in Washington early next week for a conference hosted by the Israel Bonds organization.

Behind the scenes: A senior U.S. official said that during the internal consultations at the State Department, the overall understanding was that there is a very high bar both politically and legally for denying a diplomatic visa for a minister of a U.S. ally.

What they're saying: Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, said earlier on Thursday at an event organized by Al-Monitor in Washington that Smotrich walked back his comments but she declined to speak about his visa.

  • The Biden administration has made clear that no U.S. officials will meet Smotrich during his visit.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the State Department spokesperson's comment.

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