Washington, DC – The United States has slammed a top Israeli minister for saying a Palestinian village that had been attacked by settlers needed to be “wiped out“, calling his comments “repugnant”.
US Secretary of State spokesperson Ned Price also urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “publicly and clearly” disavow the remarks that his Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made against the West Bank village of Huwara.
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“These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting,” Price told reporters on Wednesday. “And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence.”
Smotrich, a far-right Israeli politician who also oversees civil administration in the occupied West Bank, made his remarks days after Israeli settlers stormed Huwara and burned dozens of cars and homes.
“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the state of Israel should do it,” Smotrich was quoted as saying by Israeli media outlets on Wednesday.
One Palestinian died during the settlers’ attack on Huwara, near the city of Nablus, which came amid a spike of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians in an invasion of Nablus last week.
Two Israeli settlers were killed by a Palestinian gunman on Sunday, and an Israeli-American motorist was also killed in a shooting attack in Jericho, deep inside the West Bank, earlier this week.
On Wednesday, Price renewed Washington’s call for “equal measures of accountability for extremist actions regardless of the background of the perpetrators, or the victims”.
But according to a report by the Times of Israel newspaper, Israeli authorities had only arrested eight suspects — out of hundreds who participated in the Huwara rampage — and released all of them by Tuesday.
Washington has been increasingly critical of the policies of Netanyahu’s far-right government, including the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Palestinian rights advocates, however, have been calling for concrete action from the administration of US President Joe Biden to deter further Israeli abuses.
Israel, accused of imposing a system of apartheid by leading human rights organisations like Amnesty International, receives at least $3.8bn of US aid annually.
On Thursday, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an advocacy group, urged the State Department to impose a US visa ban on Smotrich.
“The Biden Administration should not allow senior government officials inciting atrocities against Palestinian civilians to spread their violent and hateful rhetoric in the United States,” Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The ‘exceptional’ nature of the US-Israel relationship should have its limits, and banning Smotrich would send an important signal that the US will not tolerate such dangerous, reckless incitement to violence.”
Earlier this week, J Street, a Jewish-American group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, called on Biden to set “clear redlines and tangible consequences” for Israeli government policies.
“Only then can the Biden Administration truly hope to halt the escalation of violence and terror, advance US interests, defend Israeli and Palestinian rights and lives, and help secure Israel’s future as a democracy,” J Street said in a statement on Monday.
Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, has repeatedly affirmed his “ironclad” commitment to Israel, dismissing calls for imposing conditions on US aid to the country.