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Israeli finance minister: ‘Erase Huwara’ comment was an ‘emotional slip of the tongue’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a discussion and a vote on the government's judicial overhaul plans in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following domestic and international condemnations, Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich appeared to retract his controversial comment about “erasing” the Arab town of Huwara. 

“It was a slip of the tongue in a storm of emotions,” said Smotrich. 

Extremist Israeli settlers rampaged through the town of Huwara following the murder of two Israeli brothers as they drove through the town by a local Palestinian resident. 

Smotrich stressed that it “goes without saying” that his comment should not be interpreted as condoning any violence against innocent civilians. He labeled Huwara as a “village that is beset by terror.”

The finance minister, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry with authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, has been an advocate for growth of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. He is known for his hardline approach toward Palestinians in these areas. He described the settler attack in Huwara as “a very serious nationalist crime but not terror.” 

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price blasted Smotrich’s remarks about erasing Huwara. 

“I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. They were repugnant. They were disgusting,” said Price. 

Price stressed that the condemnation of Smotrich was consistent with Washington’s opposition to any violence and incitement in the Middle East. 

“And just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence,” he said.

“We condemn, as we have consistently, terrorism and extremism in all of its forms, and we continue to urge that there be equal measures of accountability for extremist actions, regardless of the backgrounds of the perpetrators or the victims,” the senior Biden administration official added.

Israel’s Arab neighbors also condemned Smotrich’s “erase Huwara” remark. 

The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs blasted the statement and stressed that it constituted a violation of human rights and international law. 

“The calls for violence portend serious consequences and are a violation of international humanitarian law. Stopping the unilateral measures that harm the two-state solution and stopping the provocative actions that cause tension and violence are necessary to prevent the deterioration and reduce the escalation,” said Jordan’s foreign ministry.

Saudi Arabia, a key Arab state for regional stability, also condemned Smotrich’s Huwara statement. 

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s strong condemnation of the extremist statements made by an Israeli occupation official by demanding an (erasure) of the Palestinian village of Huwara,” read the Saudi ministry’s statement. 

Meanwhile, seeking damage control in international relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Smotrich’s retraction of the “inappropriate” “erase Huwara” remark. 

“It is important that Finance Minister Smotrich clarified that he had no intention [of referring to] harming innocent people or collective punishment,” said Netanyahu on social media. 

In an effort to rehabilitate Smotrich in the eyes of the world, Netanyahu stressed that the minister opposes violence against innocent people. 

“I know his opinions and they were reflected in his clarification,” Netanyahu said. 

The Israeli premier also criticized the world of applying double standards by largely ignoring the Palestinian Authority’s systematic anti-Semitic incitement. 

“It is regrettable that some in the international community have been quick to condemn Israel but haven’t yet demanded this necessary condemnation from the PA,” said Netanyahu. 

Despite tensions with the Biden administration and other Western nations, Smotrich is scheduled to attend an upcoming Israel Bonds conference in Washington D.C. 

In an official statement, the Israel Bonds organization stressed that it “has always maintained a focus on one core mission: To generate financial support through the sale of Israel bonds for the building and development of Israel’s economy without regard to politics.”

However, in an effort to create daylight, a White House official stressed that “no U.S. government meetings are planned for [Smotrich’s] trip.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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