Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich responded to the condemnation of his trip to London by British Jewish leaders by comparing them to the German Jewish community ahead of the Holocaust.
Upon his arrival in the United Kingdom on Wednesday night, the British Board of Deputies called Smotrich a “disgrace” and asked him to never visit the UK again.
“Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace forever,” the board said in a tweet. In a second tweet in Hebrew, the board noted his past statements against Arabs and the LGBT community, and said it rejected Smotrich’s “disgusting ideology that promotes hatred.”
Smotrich initially responded by tweeting, “British Jews: I love you. All of you.” But he changed his tone dramatically in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after Board of Deputies CEO Michael Wegier said, “British Jews cannot fight antisemitism, anti-Zionism and racism while condoning Smotrich’s views.”
אני מאוד מודה לכם על פרסום הביקור שלי ועל הקשרים הרבים שנוצרו לי בבריטניה בזכותו. עשרות טלפונים והזמנות של רבנים ומנהיגים שהתביישו בכם, התנצלו, הודיעו שאתם לא מייצגים אותם וביקשו לפגוש אותי. לצערי לא אספיק הפעם את כולם אז אצטרך לשוב פעם נוספת. אוהב אתכם אחים שלי. נתראה בע"ה שוב. https://t.co/wgEWGEDGnI— בצלאל סמוטריץ' (@bezalelsm) February 10, 2022
“It is ridiculous to bring up antisemitism on a day when a report is published on the massive rise of antisemitism in Britain, long before I arrived,” Smotrich said. “Those who say the way to deal with antisemitism is to hide who and what we are repeat the awful strategy of German Jewry ahead of World War II, who thought if there is antisemitism, let’s be more like the non-Jews and they will forgive and accept us. The opposite is true. The response to antisemitism must be a strong and secure Israel that can justify the Zionist vision and the belonging of Israel to the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish people, and the strong connection of the Diaspora to Israel, instead of trying, yet again, to find favor with the hegemony and renounce anyone because someone thinks they should, due to warped, progressive, almost sick dictates.”
Wegier said Smotrich’s statements about British Jewry “do not merit a response.” He said the Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that oversees British Jewry, is the democratically elected leadership of the British Jewish Community, and the view of the organization is that Smotrich has crossed red lines and norms of consensus.
Smotrich denounced the board as an old organization that has become more progressive and is no longer relevant.
He said its criticism of him only led to more invitations to speak in the UK, as well as helpful publicity back home.
“Countless people told me they were embarrassed by their [Board of Deputies] tweet and that it doesn’t speak for them,” he said. “People told me they drove for hours just to shake my hand. There are so many people who want me to speak now, I could stay for a week.”
Smotrich flew to London, Paris and Marseilles to garner support from Orthodox Jewish leaders who are worried about the conversion reforms planned by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.
THE ZIONIST FEDERATION of Great Britain and Ireland, an umbrella organization of the Zionist movement in the UK, joined the Board of Deputies in condemning Smotrich, saying his “far-right politics of hatred and division... have no place in our country nor in our community,” including targeting the “LGBTQ+ community, Reform Jews or Arab Israelis.”
Smotrich said in April that Muslims who do not recognize that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people will not continue to reside in the land. He made the comment just hours before Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During a stormy Knesset debate in October, Smotrich turned to the Arab MKs and said, “I am not talking to you... you are anti-Zionists, terror supporters. [You are] enemies. You are here by mistake... because Ben-Gurion did not finish the job and throw you out of here in 1948. This is the truth.”
A few years earlier, he said that his wife refused to give birth alongside an Arab mother due to “mental gaps” between Arabs and Jews.
Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz tweeted that he heard Smotrich complain that “progressives” have taken over the Jewish community in the UK. “No Bezalel, it is your party’s racism and Kahanism that are disgusting the Jewish community in the UK, which have always pushed for tolerance, equality and justice,” he wrote.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he “warned that if we let racist MKs enter Israeli politics, this will harm us abroad, especially with world Jewry,” and that “unfortunately, we see this happening in front of our very eyes.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai tweeted, “Smotrich has nothing to do in the UK. The community there has already given its opinion. Racism has no place anywhere. Go home.”
Shai’s Labor colleague Gilad Kariv, the first Reform rabbi elected to the Knesset, tweeted, “It’s good that the Board of Deputies switched out their British politeness for some Israeli chutzpah in their condemnation of Smotrich.”
אין מה להתרגש מכך שיהדות התפוצות עונה לסמוטריץ' בשפה שהוא מכיר. האיש נסע לבריטניה על מנת להעמיק את הפילוג ואת המתיחות בין הזרמים והקהילות השונות. טוב שהארגון היציג של יהדות בריטניה החליף את הנימוס הבריטי המקובל בחוצפה הישראלית— גלעד קריב (@KarivGilad) February 10, 2022
But Smotrich’s colleagues on the Right came to his defense. Religious Zionist Party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir said the Board of Deputies was “infected by leftists and Reform.”
“The Board of Deputies’ shameful tweet against Smotrich is an embarrassment and is disrespectful toward all Diaspora communities,” tweeted Shas head Arye Deri.
Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and acting head of the Jewish Agency, also backed Smotrich.
“I reject any boycott of Israeli officials democratically elected by the Israeli public,” said Hagoel, who is a Likudnik.
“Expressions such as these undermine the foundations of the unity of our people and the cooperation required for its continuity. Calls by the Jewish community to boycott certain Israeli leaders actually help our enemies.”