Jewish Settlers Attack Palestinian Town with Approval of Israeli Minister Smotrich, White House then Refuses to Meet Him During U.S. Visit
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
In this article, we see a compassionate Orthodox Jew’s view of Jewish settlers’ hateful attack on the Palestinian town of Hawara. The article also reports on Minister of Finance, Betzalel Smotrich’s inflammatory command to “wipe out” Hawara. That is followed by a report on the White House vow not to meet with Smotrich when he plans to visit the U.S. later this month. The writer then expresses fear over the ultra-right government’s future impact on the West Bank and its intentions to further emasculate Palestinians.
“The settlers’ attack on Hawara is not the Orthodox Judaism I grew up on”
We would not normally use the viewpoint of a stander-by to depict an inflammatory incident on the West Bank. Here, however, it’s an Orthodox Jewish witness to Jewish settlers’ brutal attack on the town of Hawara that serves as our text. Here, according to the liberal-leaning Jewish Telegraphic Agency, is a portion of his narrative:
“Jewish rioters look on as the cars they set on fire burn in the Palestinian town of Hawara in the West Bank. Nighttime in Hawara, a small Palestinian town in the West Bank. Jews in large skullcaps and sidelocks, prayer fringes dangling from their waists, responding loudly to the cantor: ‘Yehei shmei raba mevurach leolam u’leolmei olmaya’ (‘May His great name be blessed, forever and ever’) — the words of Kaddish, a regular daily prayer that can also be said to mourn the dead.”
This Orthodox observer also decries the destruction, stating, “The gloom outside is illuminated by an enormous bonfire of cars, shops and homes belonging to the Palestinian residents of the village, which the Kaddish-reciters have set on fire, in revenge for the horrific and heartrending murders, hours before the pogrom, of brothers Hillel and Yagel Yaniv (may their memory be a blessing) and for other recent terror attacks in the area.” (The immediate cause of the settlers’ revenge was a Palestinian gunman’s murder of two settler brothers).
This religious Orthodox man’s perceptions are prescient. He said, my Judaism is one of compassion, not the one “the militant settlers imbibed — or distorted — (which) led one of the ‘pogromchiks,’ he too in skullcap and sidelocks, to speak in Hebrew words I understood but whose language I could not comprehend.” The militant settler told a reporter, “Jews won’t be silent. What the army can’t do, what the police will never do, simple Jews come and carry out a simple act of vengeance, setting fire to anything they can.”
This Orthodox observer does not let the Palestinians off the hook for their behavior but equally blames the ultra-Orthodox. He noted, “An entire generation of Jews has been raised on this Judaism of hate, contemptuous of anyone who is not Jewish, of any display of weakness, of compassion…but a worship of ‘Jewish might’ (‘Otzma Yehudit,’ the name of a far-right political party) and limitless greed.”
Minister of Finance, Betzalel Smotrich, de facto Governor of the West Bank, chastised for “Wiping Out” Hawara Statement
Following the settlers’ attack on Hawara, Smotrich said the town should be erased by Israel’s military, not by private citizens. (Hawara is a small town south of Nablus.) According to Arab News, later in the week, Smotrich said, “he didn’t mean for Hawara to be erased but for Israel to operate surgically within it against Palestinian militants.” By then, however, such sources as the U.S. State Department called Smotrich’s remarks “repugnant” and urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to “publicly and clearly reject and disavow them.”
Subsequently, Netanyahu thanked Smotrich for walking the comments back. Netanyahu couched his problems with Smotrich as a need “to balance the ideologies of the far-right members of his government with the expectations of Israel’s chief ally, the U.S.” Smotrich, besides holding down Israel’s Treasury ministry, is the head of an ultranationalist party. This party helped to prop up Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most right-wing in history.
Many Israelis were upset by Minister Smotrich’s hair-raising words launched against the people of Hawara. Some Israelis were concerned about their fellow American Jews’ reaction to Smotrich and his intended visit to the U.S. News source Israel Hayom suggested that such a visit “would be an affront to American Jewish values.”
Furthermore, regarding Smotrich’s visiting the U.S., American Jews were quoted, as saying, we are committed to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state; to a robust US-Israel relationship; and to Jewish peoplehood that fully encompasses Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities, we are opposed to Bezalel Smotrich visiting the United States later this month in his capacity as Israel’s finance minister, and we call on all pro-Israel Americans to understand that welcoming Smotrich here will harm, rather than help, support for Israel.”
White House vows it will not meet with Israel’s Smotrich when he visits the U.S.
President Biden administration officials have made it clear—because of Smotrich’s statement about Hawara, even after he backtracked it, they will not meet with him. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted U.S. Jewish groups, saying “The trip comes as Smotrich and his far-right allies in Israel’s governing coalition have upended traditions of comity between establishment U.S.”
Just this week, the State Department issued its annual report on terrorism. It noted a “substantial rise” in settler attacks on Palestinians in 2021. This was the first such assessment of Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians. State Department spokesman Ned Price referenced in his daily briefing, “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.”
American Jewish organization T’ruah made its perspective loud and clear: “Smotrich’s comments are even more dangerous now that Israel’s de jure annexation of the West Bank has made him effectively the governor of the territory, with broad oversight over most areas of civil administration.”
An even stronger condemnation of Smotrich came from The Americans for Peace Now, an American Jewish organization. It petitioned President Biden with a statement signed by more than 1,100 signatures, stating “Smotrich wants to bring his hatred to US soil. He has plans to travel to the United States later this month. We’re here to say that he is not welcome. We have seen how incitement in Israel-Palestine has led to devastating violence and we urge your administration to deny entry to Smotrich and his hateful rhetoric.”
Smotrich’s hard line is just part of the problem emerging in Israel as a result of Netanyahu’s pasting together of his ultra-right government. Perhaps more serious is the government’s attempt to reduce the role of Israel’s Judiciary, allowing the Executive branch more freedom in perpetrating its right-wing agenda. This could include Netanyahu’s desire to avoid a jail sentence, possibly in that he’s under indictment. We’re beginning to see some of the ultra-right government’s impact on the West Bank and fear its intentions to further emasculate Palestinians.
–The settlers’ attack on Hawara is not the Orthodox Judaism I grew up on, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 3/2/2023
–Smotrich’s remarks to erase Hawara town ‘inappropriate,’ says Netanyahu, Arab News, 3/5/2023
–PM thanks Smotrich for retracting Hawara comments, US Jewish group opposes his visit, Israel Hayom, 3/5/2023
–White House says it will not meet with Israel’s Bezalel Smotrich when he visits the US, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 3/2/2023
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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