Israeli finance minister widely boycotted during US trip

Bezalel Smotrich has come under heavy criticism for calling for the destruction of a Palestinian town

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich arrived in Washington to speak at an investment conference, on Sunday. EPA
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Several senior figures in the US Jewish community have refused to meet Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich over his calls for the Palestinian town of Hawara to be “wiped out”.

Mr Smotrich landed in Washington on Sunday. At a meeting of the Israel Bonds organisation, he spoke to 150 senior figures and committed to “protect every innocent life, Jew or Arab”.

“As I have already said and written and repeat now with sincere regret, my comments about Hawara created a completely mistaken impression,” he said.

The US called the initial comments “repugnant” and announced that no American officials would be meeting Mr Smotrich during his visit.

Reports emerged that the White House was even considering not granting him a visa, although it was always viewed as an unlikely option.

Civil society in the US has also shunned the minister. Seventy-three liberal Jewish groups pledged not to host him, with many protesting outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, where Mr Smotrich was delivering his address.

Demonstrators chanted the same slogans of the continuing Israeli mass protest movement that stands against the government's legal reforms.

Israel's public broadcaster Kan reported that both the IMF and the US Chamber of Commerce cancelled meetings with Mr Smotrich.

Key US groups that have said they will not meet the minister, including the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed in February, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israel lobbying group.

Mr Smotrich's visit comes as the new government seeks to calm fears that Israel's start-up-heavy economy is threatened by the collapse of the US-based Silicon Valley Bank and government plans to drastically reform the judiciary, which critics say would threaten the country's business environment.

On Monday, 250 US investors said the reforms risk reducing investment into Israel from abroad and that “it will also become increasingly difficult to advocate for and defend Israel internationally”.

Last week, the Moody’s rating agency said the overhaul could weaken Israeli institutions and the economy.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 11:31 AM