Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich took to Facebook on Wednesday night to issue a formal apology for his March 1 comments on the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara – in which he said Israel should “wipe out” the town.
Smotrich, who drew considerable ire for his comments, explained in his apology that a friend of his in the Israeli Air Force shared his anxiety about Smotrich’s violent rhetoric – an anxiety he said is shared by many in the Israeli Air Force who fear having to carry out such a task.
Two days ago, the Israeli Air Force's reservist fighter pilots protested actions by Israel’s coalition government by refusing to attend training. They later agreed to drop their threat.
“According to this friend of mine, and I trust him one hundred percent, it's not some cynical campaign excuse of the pilots in the context of opposition to reform, but a deep and real fear that led them to do what they did,” Smotrich outlined in his apology statement.
“The IDF is the people's army and has a clear moral and value framework… This framework is important because it captures around it all the soldiers, commanders and fighters coming from different parts of the nation. These are the values necessary to establish a basic contract between the state and those who are willing to give their lives for it and activate the deadliest weapons for it,” concluded Smotrich.
Smotrich’s comments on Huwara
“I think that Huwara needs to be wiped out, but the State of Israel needs to do it, most certainly not private citizens,” he said during a March 1st interview at a conference by business news organization TheMarker.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price called his words “irresponsible,” “repugnant,” and “disgusting,” while French officials said they were “appalled” by the comment.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry called the comment a “racist” and “extremist statement" which reflected the level of violence enacted by Israel against the Palestinians, while the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said it was a breach of human rights and international law.
Smotrich, who officially retracted that statement on March 5th, faced backlash from Israeli and global politicians for his inflammatory comments, which followed a riot led by Jewish settlers in which dozens of homes and cars were burned.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Smotrich’s initial retraction, saying he wanted to “thank minister Bezalel [Smotrich] for making clear that his choice of words regarding the vigilante attacks on [Huwara] following the murder of the Yaniv brothers were inappropriate and that he is strongly opposed to intentionally harming innocent civilians.”
מברך את חברי לממשלה, שר האוצר בצלאל סמוטריץ׳, על מילים חשובות וגילוי אחריות.@bezalelsm— יואב גלנט (@yoavgallant) March 8, 2023
“I congratulate minister Bezalel Smotrich for his important words and for showing responsibility,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Twitter.
“As a fighter pilot for many years, I can testify that the topics that Smotrich wrote about in his address to the aircrew fighters give a correct expression to the dilemmas the fighters encounter,” MK Matan Kahana tweeted. “The minister's words are an extension of a hand to rebuild trust. In this kind of discourse, we can find a solution to any internal crisis and defeat any external enemy.”