Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrived in Washington on Sunday where he was to deliver the keynote address at an Israel Bonds conference at the Grand Hyatt hotel later that evening.
Smotrich arrives amid controversy over remarks he made in favor of “wiping out” an Arab town where a terrorist killed two Israeli brothers on Feb. 26.
Although Smotrich apologized for the remarks on March 9 in a lengthy Facebook post, a protest will take place outside the hotel organized by the left-wing groups Americans for Peace Now (APN) and Partners for Progressive Israel. APN and a third group, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, earlier called on the U.S. government to revoke the finance minister’s entry visa.
Spokespeople for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League all told the Times of Israel that members of their organizations are boycotting Smotrich during his visit. (Despite reports that the Jewish Federations of North America boycotted the visit, Niv Elis, a JFNA spokesman, told JNS that neither party made an official meeting request.)
The Zionist Organization of America and Orthodox Union are the only Jewish organizations to publicly confirm they will meet the Israeli finance minister, according to the report.
Before his departure, Smotrich extended an olive branch to U.S. Jewry, saying: “The message I am [coming] with is that as in Israel, so too in the Diaspora, it is okay to have differences of opinion and arguments between us, but nothing will break our bond. We are stronger together.”
The U.S. government has also made known its disapproval by boycotting Smotrich’s trip. No U.S. government officials will meet with him or address the conference.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said of Smotrich’s comments in a March 1 press briefing, “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 is also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian affairs in Judea and Samaria, with broad authority over policy decisions there. His authority covers Area C of Judea and Samaria, as defined by the Oslo Accords, where Smotrich plans to accelerate the building of Jewish communities and limit Palestinian development.
His initial remarks came after brothers Hallel Menachem and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv were shot dead in Huwara.
Later that night, a few hundred Jews rioted in the town, with some setting fire to Palestinian property and engaging in clashes with local Arabs. One Palestinian was reportedly killed during a riot in a nearby town that occurred at the same time.
During a panel discussion two days later, Smotrich said that Huwara “needs to be wiped out,” adding, “I think the State of Israel should do this and not—God forbid—private citizens.”
The finance minister the same day walked back the comment, writing on Twitter: “To avoid any doubt, I did not intend to suggest erasing the village of Huwara; rather, to act in a focused manner against the terrorists and supporters of terrorism within it, and to exact a heavy price from them in order to restore security to the residents of the area.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week welcomed the clarification that Smotrich did not mean that innocents should be harmed.
“It is important for all of us to work to tone down the rhetoric [and] lower the temperature. That includes speaking out forcefully against inappropriate statements and even correcting our own statements when we misspeak or when our words are taken out of context,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
“That is why I want to thank Minister Bezalel Smotrich for making clear that his choice of words regarding the vigilante attacks on Hurawa following the murder of the Yaniv brothers was inappropriate and that he is strongly opposed to intentionally harming innocent civilians,” added the premier.