The Israeli leader tries to calm international outcry over his Finance Minister’s remarks on Palestinian town.
By Erin Viner
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said last week that while he opposed vigilantism, he believed “that Huwara needs to be erased” by the State of Israel.
He made the inflammatory following the 26 February murders of Israeli brothers Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, who died after being shot at point-blank range by Palestinian terrorists as they drove through the flashpoint West Bank town of Huwara, north of Ramallah. Their deaths came amid a surge of terror that has claimed the lives of 14 people in Israel since the start of the year.
Later the same evening, hundreds of Jewish extremists went on a rampage in Huwara and neighboring Arab villages chanting, “Revenge.” IDF and Border Police forces were deployed to disperse the rioters, who had set fire to dozens of vehicles, commercial and private properties. One Palestinian in the town of Za’tara, south of Huwara died of gunshot wounds, but the IDF said troops were not involved in the shooting. Israel has arrested 10 suspects for involvement in the attack. .
“It is important for all of us to work to tone down the rhetoric, lower the temperature,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on Twitter yesterday, while thanking Smotrich “for making clear that his choice of words … was inappropriate.”
“I am still waiting to hear a condemnation from the Palestinian Authority for the murder of the Yaniv brothers,” Netanyahu added. “And Israel is waiting for the international community to insist that the PA condemn that attack – not only has it not done so, it the continues to turn a blind eye to the PA’s rampant incitement.”
The United States called for Prime Minister Netanyahu to publicly disavow his minister’s comments, which were branded as tantamount to incitement to violence. At a press briefing, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price called Smotrich’s statements “irresponsible,” “repugnant” and “disgusting.”called the comments “irresponsible,” “repugnant” and “disgusting” and said Netanyahu should reject and disavow them. “Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn Finance Minister Smotrich‘s provocative remarks that also amount to incitement of violence. It is imperative that Palestinians and Israelis work together to restore calm,” Price tweeted later.
With Israeli media speculating that Smotrich, who is due to visit Washington next week, would be snubbed by the administration of US President Joe Biden, leading to complications with its ties to the Netanyahu government. The Palestinians have urged the White House not to receive Smotrich.
The European Union’s envoy to the Palestinians Ambassador Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff condemned Smotrich for making “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence,” and demanded accountability and for perpetrators of the Huwara attack to be brought to justice.
For his part, the Israeli Finance Minister has offered a retraction but no apology for his statement. “Being upset, I misspoke,” Smotrich, one of the most senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and leader of the Religious Zionism political party, told Channel 12 TV on Saturday.