US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides slammed Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Friday in a fiery statement calling him “stupid” and saying he would “throw him out of the plane” to Washington, according to a report Friday in the Hebrew-language edition of Israel Hayom, quoting a report by Israel’s Channel 12 News.
Responding to the undiplomatic statement by the US Ambassador, Smotrich released a statement:
“I am not angry at the US Ambassador to Israel, and I am convinced he did not intend to incite to kill me when he said that I should be thrown out of the plane, exactly as I did not intend harm against innocents when I said Huwara should be wiped out. People sometimes use strong expressions which they don’t mean literally, in order to convey a harsh message. It happens to everyone.”
אני לא כועס על @USAmbIsrael ומשוכנע שהוא לא התכוון להסית להרג שלי כשהוא אמר שצריך לזרוק אותי מהמטוס, בדיוק כפי שאני לא התכוונתי לפגיעה בחפים מפשע כשאמרתי שצריך למחוק את חווארה. אנשים משתמשים לפעמים בביטויים קשים שהם לא מתכוונים אליהם כפשוטם כדי להעביר מסר חריף. זה קורה לכולם.
— בצלאל סמוטריץ’ (@bezalelsm) March 4, 2023
Nides’ condemnation came in response to words by the Finance Minister earlier this week in which he liked a tweet in which Davidi Ben Zion, deputy head of the Samaria regional council, said the terrorist hotbed town of Huwara “a village that should be wiped out.”
Smotrich said he retweeted the statement because he believes the town should be wiped out, but by the state, and not by mob anarchy.
Ben Zion subsequently retracted his statement, and Smotrich issued a clarification as well.
למען הסר ספק, בדברי לא התכוונתי למחוק את הכפר חווארה אלא רק לפעול באופן ממוקד נגד המחבלים ותומכי הטרור בתוכו ולגבות מהם מחיר כבד כדי להשיב את הביטחון לתושבי האזור.
— בצלאל סמוטריץ’ (@bezalelsm) March 1, 2023
“To avoid all doubt: in my words I did not mean to wipe out the village of Huwara, but only to act in a targeted manner against the terrorists and supporters of terrorism within the town and to exact a heavy price from them in order to restore security to the residents of the area,” he wrote in a tweet.
The harsh words followed the execution-style murders of two Israeli brothers by a terrorist who shot them at point-blank range as their vehicle stood in traffic in the center of Huwara.
Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Smotrich for clarifying his comment, and pointed out that foreign diplomats [referring to Nides] make mistakes too.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated:
“It is important that Finance Minister Smotrich clarified that he had no intention of harming the innocent or collective punishment. I know his positions and they were reflected in his clarification.
None of us are without mistakes, including foreign diplomats.
Israel’s policy is clear: fight aggressively against terrorists and supporters of terrorism, avoid harming the innocent and collective punishment.
Until this moment, the Palestinian Authority has not condemned the murder of the two wonderful brothers, Yigal and Hillel Yaniv, and I regret that there are those in the international community who rushed to condemn Israel but have not yet demanded this necessary condemnation from the Palestinian Authority.”
Dozens of local Jewish residents flooded into Huwara after the murders, and torched homes and local businesses.
It is not the first time Jews have been attacked in Huwara, which they are forced to drive through when traveling to and from Samaria, because there is no bypass road that allows them to avoid the town.
Smotrich called on Jewish residents in the region to to “let the government do its job” and not to take the law into their own hands.
“I’m really angry with him,” Nides said. “He is stupid. He has a flight to Washington with [Israeli businessman] Danny Naveh and if I could, I would throw him off the plane.”
The US Embassy in Jerusalem initially declined to comment, and later in the evening said that the ambassador denied the allegations, according to Channel 12.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson also attacked Smotrich, calling his statement “repulsive, inappropriate” and saying his words “amount to incitement to violence.”
Reports that the Biden Administration considered blocking a visa for Smotrich to visit the United States to address a Jewish gathering were not confirmed, and at least one Israeli news outlet opined it was “unlikely” the Finance Minister would not receive a visa to travel. Reports that Biden Administration officials were refusing to meet with Smotrich were debunked by the minister’s spokesperson, who said Smotrich had never requested such a meeting.
Egypt likewise issued its own statement condemning Smotrich’s words, claiming “these statements express a dangerous and unacceptable incitement to violence which contradicts all laws and moral values. The statements are devoid of responsibility that should be held by any senior official engaged in a public position.
Similar condemnations came from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Saudi Arabia issued a particularly harsh condemnation and continued to accuse Israel of “occupying” Palestinian Authority territory.
“The Kingdom strongly condemns the extreme statement of one of the senior officials of the Israeli occupation who called for the destruction of the Palestinian village of Huwara,” the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry said in its statement.
“The Kingdom firmly opposes this racist and irresponsible statement that shows the extent of the violence and extremism of the occupying Israeli entity towards the Palestinian people. The international community must bear responsibility and deter measures of this type and provide protection to Palestinian citizens,” Riyadh declared.
Not one similar condemnation has ever been issued against the ongoing incitement against Israel by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, nor against the leaders of multiple terrorist organizations residing comfortably in the Palestinian Authority, training generations of children to join their terrorist ranks.
Residents of Judea and Samaria have endured multiple attacks – daily – for years.
A brief sample just from Friday night:
Arab terrorists hurled flaming Molotov cocktails toward vehicles traveling in Gush Etzion. No injuries were reported.
Later the same night, more terrorists opened fire at a 65-year-old commercial driver as he travelled in the Mount Hebron area near the Beit Hagai junction. The driver, who was wounded in the leg, was treated by local medics from Hatzalah Without Borders and then taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Just three hours later, terrorists from Jelazoun hurled a pipe bomb while driving past an IDF outpost in Judea and Samaria. No casualties were reported.