Israel Bonds, the American Jewish group which sold $1-billion worth of bonds benefiting the State of Israel in 2022, has invited Israel’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, as featured speaker at its Washington DC national conference from March 12-14th. Smotrich is one of the most virulent of the new Israeli government ministers. After the pogrom in the Palestinian village of Huwara last week (donate for humanitarian relief), he endorsed the mass violence and went further, calling for it to be burned to the ground: “The village of Hawara needs to be wiped out. I think that the State of Israel needs to do that – not, God forbid, private individuals.”
Richard Silverstein (@richards1052) returns to shed light on the latest violence in Israel/Palestine w/ a focus on the Israeli settler rampage in Huwara, a Palestinian village in the West Bank.https://t.co/kTIgxUr68x
— Parallax Views w/ J.G. Michael (Podcast) (@ViewsParallax) March 2, 2023
This language is overt genocide. And let’s be clear, as I was in the podcast interview I did for Parallax Views yesterday: these are not mere words. These are expressions of intent. And intent leads directly to action. In Rwanda, Germany, Serbia, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere, the hatred and incitement led directly to the extermination of millions. Followers of the inciters heard media Interviews precisely like this one and considered it a call to action.
Smotrich is also an avowed homophobe who held a “Beast Parade” replete with donkeys in competition with Israel’s Gay Pride parade. Even more important, a former Shin Bet deputy chief called him a “Jewish terrorist.” During the Gaza evacuation in 2005, Smotrich was intercepted by the Shin Bet before he perpetrated a terror attack. Yitzhak Ilan said:
“I interrogated Smotrich…He is a terrorist. He’s Jewish, but he’s a terrorist. At the time of the disengagement he wanted to blow up cars on the Ayalon highway, at rush hour, with gasoline. We caught him with 700 liters (185 gallons) of the stuff…Like a common criminal, he…remained silent for three weeks, he’s hiding this, you won’t find it anywhere,” said Ilan, according to the TV report. “He kept silent for three weeks.””
Last week, 400 setters swooped down on Huwara and burned it to cinders. Hundreds of thousands more will hear Smotrich and know that their government wants them to burn, pillage and murder Palestinians. Too many are used to thinking of Israel as a stable western state: it could never happen here. This is what German Jews said in the years leading up to the Holocaust, convincing themselves that there was hope, that things might improve; or at least not get worse. Before 1933, they could not imagine the magnitude of Nazi evil. It has taught us that all human beings, whether they live in Kigali, Berlin, Belgrade or Jerusalem are capable of genocide.
We must not make the mistake of arguing if it is possible for Israel to commit genocide. Instead, we must begin to think when and how they might do it. Events–from the chaos of decimating the country’s legal institutions to state-sponsored terror attacks in the West Bank–are sweeping out of control. Amidst such a vacuum, political opportunists arise like noxious weeds, and flourish. Smotrich and Ben Gvir are precisely such individuals. And if the world does not stop them, they will lead Israel down the road to genocide and possibly even its own self-destruction.
State Department: Smotrich crosses red line
After days of somnolence, during which the US State Department could only muster concern for Israeli victims of two terror attacks, Smotrich’s comments crossed a red line. On Monday, at his weekly press conference, spokesperson Ned Price called out Smotrich directly, denouncing him and everything he represented:
QUESTION: [The] Israeli finance minister called the Israeli Government to wipe out Huwara village, the Palestinian village. Do you have any comment…?
MR PRICE: I want to be very clear about this. These comments were irresponsible. 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. We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments. 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 background of the perpetrators or the victims.
We’ve already noted our concern…about the widescale, indiscriminate violence by settlers against Palestinian civilians in this very town, in Huwara, that led to the death of one Palestinian man, more than 300 residents injured, four seriously, and the torching of an estimated – of numerous Palestinian homes and cars.
After expressing its repugnance, what will the US government do? Can it close its eyes to the very terrorist it excoriated, coming to the US capital as an honored guest of a major pro-Israel group?
Jewish, Pro-Palestinian groups urge US to keep Smotrich out
Pro-Palestinian NGOs have urged the Biden administration to tell Smotrich to turn around and go home. DAWN, a human rights group founded by Jamal Khashoggi, accused Smotrich of “incitement to genocide.” It added:
The United States must not give the impression that it condones his hateful and violent ideology and policies, and anything less would make the Biden Administration culpable in whatever violence comes next.”
Adalah Justice Project echoed this sentiment and added that Israeli settler groups raising funds in the US should be sanctioned:
Awad added that the US should also be pressured to ban groups “from raising money for illegal settlements built on Palestinian land and whose occupants most recently set ablaze the Palestinian village of Huwwara”.
At the very least, their tax-exempt status should be revoked. Not only are settlements themselves a violation of international law, but the Israeli state engages in acts mass theft and state terrorism to protect and expand them.
Five American Jewish groups have joined the call to refuse entry to Smotrich. The pro-Israel media (Jerusalem Post, JTA, Times of Israel) only refers to the statements of the Zionist groups–Peace Now, T’ruah, J Street, New Israel Fund, and Israel Policy Forum. None of them offer the statement by Jewish Voice for Peace Action because, as an anti-Zionist group, it is considered “beyond the pale.” That’s why I’ll cover it here:
In the face of undeniable incitement to genocide by a sitting Israeli government official, the Biden administration must take action to immediately withdraw unconditional U.S. military funding and support for the Israeli government, and refuse to allow Smotrich entry to the U.S. on his upcoming planned trip…If Biden fails to take action at this moment, the U.S. will be fully complicit in the violence that comes next.”
Israeli human rights groups urge sanctions
Israeli human rights groups, spearheaded by human rights lawyer, Eitay Mack, have urged an even broader US approach to the key leadership of the new government. They’ve called for the Biden adminstration (pdf statement) to invoke the Magnitsky Act against Netanyahu himself, Itamar Ben Gvir and Smotrich. They designate the prime minister as a “corrupt leader,” both for the three bribery charges under which he faces prosecution; and for proposed legislation which would sabotage his own prosecution:
…Netanyahu weaponizes corruption to perpetuate his power and undermine democracy. His actions in recent years are a clear example of the corruption’s ability to corrode democracy, and clearly justify imposing sanctions on him according to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act…
The Global Magnitsky Act provides the U.S. executive branch with standing, global authority to impose targeted sanctions against specific persons, including foreign government officials in countries with which the United States otherwise shares important bilateral relations. The Act authorizes the government to impose economic sanctions (asset blocking and prohibitions on transactions) and visa restrictions.
With regard to PM Netanyahu’s corruption, sanctions should be imposed on him for being “responsible for, or complicit in, ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or bribery”, as detailed in the indictments against him.
Such sanctions would not only preclude travel to the US, they would freeze any US assets he has, and could lead to foreign financial institutions, including those in Israel, freezing his assets as well. If not, they are subject to penalties under US law. This would also hold true for individuals doing business with sanctioned figures.
Astonishingly, the Biden administration has been considering a coveted invitation to the White House, where Netanyahu has been a regular visitor during the terms of four previous presidents. Such a visit almost always includes an address to Congress. Does the president really want the Israeli prime minister touting his anti-democratic revolution before a Congress, whose Republican members would cheer it, and him vociferously? It would be shocking if such an invitation were even considered, let alone extended, given the mayhem in Israel over the past two months.
The same Israeli groups have called for Magnitsky sanctions against Ben Gvir and Smotrich (pdf statement), but for different provisions under the law:
…The Global Magnitsky Human ights Accountability Act50, that allows for imposing sanctions on any foreign person based on credible evidence that he is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections…
…According to the…2019 [Magnitsky Act] report, the U.S. prioritizes actions “that are expected to produce a tangible and significant impact on the sanctioned person and their affiliates, to prompt changes in behavior or disrupt the activities of malign actors.”
Haaretz offers other weapons (on which I’ve expanded) potentially in the US arsenal to magnify our displeasure. Pres. Biden could recall the US ambassador for “consultations.” Another word for a major reconsideration of US relations with the country in question. Secretary of State Blinken could also summon the Israeli ambassador and make known our disgust with developments in Israel-Palestine.
Biden could refuse to veto future UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel. His government could also back away from its support for the Abraham Accords, one of Netanyahu’s crowning foreign policy achievements. The Trump administration instrumental was instrumental in lobbying Arab states to join the arrangements.
The president should immediately renounce every remaining vestige of Trump’s pro-Israel policy. That includes reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem, reopening the Palestinian affairs office in Washington DC, explicitly revoking Trump-era recognition of the Golan and West Bank as sovereign Israeli territory, and denying West Bank products the “made in Israel” designation.