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Netanyahu welcomes Smotrich’s walkback of Huwara comments; Biden admin plans boycott

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has twice clarified that he did not mean innocents should be harmed when he said that the Palestinian village should be “wiped out.”

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich during a vote at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Dec. 20, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Religious Zionism Party head Bezalel Smotrich during a vote at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Dec. 20, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night thanked Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for setting the record straight with regard to his call earlier in the week for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be “wiped out.”

“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.

On Sunday, Feb. 26, Israeli brothers Hallel Menachem and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv were shot dead in Huwara, which is located south of Nablus in Samaria. That night, a few hundred Jews rioted in the town, with some setting fire to Palestinian property and engaging in clashes with local Arabs, leaving one Palestinian dead.

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.”

Later that day, the finance minister 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.”

On Saturday, Smotrich told Channel 12 in an interview that his “word choice was wrong” and attributed this to a “slip of the tongue due to a storm of emotions.”

Hours later, Netanyahu suggested that the international community should hold Ramallah accountable.

“While Minister Smotrich clarified his position, I am still waiting to hear a condemnation from the Palestinian Authority for the murder of the Yaniv brothers. And Israel is waiting for the international community to insist that the P.A. condemn that attack,” wrote Netanyahu on Saturday night.

“Not only has it not done so, it continues to turn a blind eye to the P.A.’s rampant incitement, to the disgusting spectacle of Palestinians handing out sweets to celebrate terror attacks against Jews and to the official P.A. pay-to-slay policy, in which the P.A. pays terrorists to murder Jews. The international community’s silence in the face of Palestinian support for terrorism must finally come to an end,” he concluded.

Notably, Netanyahu added in an accompanying Hebrew-language post that, “None of us are free of mistakes, including foreign diplomats,” in what is being construed as a reference to U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides, whom Channel 12 quoted as saying that Smotrich should be “thrown off the plane” when he travels to the United States next week.

Nides’ office has denied he made the comment about Smotrich, who responded on Twitter: “I’m not angry at the U.S. ambassador and I’m convinced that he didn’t intend to incite my killing when he said I should be thrown off a plane, just as I did not mean to harm innocent people when I said Huwara should be wiped out. People sometimes use strong expressions that they don’t mean literally, to convey a blunt message. It happens to everyone.”

On Friday, Channel 12 reported that the Biden administration will boycott Smotrich when he visits Washington to speak at an Israel Bonds conference taking place from March 12 to 14.

“If Smotrich was persona non grata before that statement, now after this debacle he is persona non grata on steroids,” Channel 12 quoted a senior U.S. source as saying. “No American official will meet with Smotrich. After he said these things, the phones in the offices in Jerusalem did not stop ringing,” he added.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price earlier this week described Smotrich’s remarks as “disgusting,” and called on Israel’s government to repudiate them.

“I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting,” said Price. “And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence. We call on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments,” he added.

Netanyahu overnight Saturday responded in kind, writing on Twitter that, “Israel’s policy is clear: Fight terrorists and their supporters vigorously, and avoid harming innocent people and collective punishment.”

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