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The outrageous British-Jewish-Smotrich affair

The Board of Deputies of British Jews sent shockwaves through the Jewish world in its treatment of an Israeli Knesset member after he arrived in the UK. Shortly after Bezalel Smotrich arrived, the Board tweeted in Hebrew: “We reject the reprehensible opinions and hateful ideology of Bezalel Smotritch. We call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door. Go back to your plane, Bezalel, and be an eternal disgrace. You are not wanted here.” The wording in Hebrew sounded far sharper. While many applauded the Board for these tweets aimed at Smotritch’s racist and homophobic past statements, others pointed out the sad reality: there were blue and white fingerprints all over the affair. Once again, Diaspora Jewry became a football in the hands of Israeli politicians. 

 

While a statement on their refusal to meet with him would be welcome news, done professionally, there was something very personal and humiliating about the statement and their delivery. While Smotritch himself and his allies alleged that the statement baked in Israel, and while the timing of the statement and its delivery matched his flight route perfectly, I will not resort to conspiracies or speculations in judging this. Shortly after the statement of this prestigious British organization – one that helped deliver the Balfour Declaration – Israel’s Diaspora minister and a slew of Israeli Knesset members from parties who oppose him used that tweet to double down and dunk on him. 

Israel’s Diaspora minister Nachman Shai hurried to tweet at Smotritch telling him he is not welcome in the UK, as others rushed to make sure they could dunk on Smotrich. Israeli MK Simcha Rothman wrote a whole oped on how this tweet emanated from Israel – and not the UK – and once again, Diaspora Jews were the football to be played within local Israeli politics. What was not discussed in as much detail was the purpose of Smotritch’s trip to Europe. It later became clear his trip was meant to rally European Jewish communities to oppose religious reforms inside Israel. 

I was reminded of an event that took place weeks before. As a local feud took place in a large synagogue in New York, Israel’s Minister of Tourism Yoel Razvozov, had no qualms writing an official letter on his office’s stationery, urging the congregation to side with his friend’s son. After all, a friend is a friend. Israeli journalist Nachum Barnea pointed out that once again, we see the damaging impact of selfish, self-dealing of Israeli politicians in Diaspora Jewry’s internal affairs. Had a Greek government official weighed in – using government stationery – in favor of his friend’s son trying to overthrow his senior in a New York church, the Greek ambassador would likely be summoned or that minister would resign. Yet when it comes to Jewish Diaspora affairs, somehow everything is game. Israeli politicians feel like it is their homecourt. 

Yet when it comes to those same Diaspora Jews which Israeli politicians are so happy to play political football, needing to get into Israel in time of need, being more welcome in Israel, and Ben Gurion style Aliya advocacy, those same politicians are nowhere to be seen. 

This criticism goes both to Smotrich and his crew, who were part of implementing the cruel and ineffective lockouts – keeping Diaspora Jews out of Israel for two whole years, and his political rivals who have done the same during the recent wave of Omicron. 

When I was advocating for special permits to be made for Jews during the recent closing of Israel’s skies, a former of aid to Naftali Bennett spoke in opposition of such advocacy, saying no exceptions should be made for Jews. Once again, I saw the same people willing to play political football with Diaspora Jews time and again, not recognizing us in time of need. It is time for Israeli politicians to stop playing football with Diaspora Jews. 

To The Board of Deputies of British Jews, I say what the Jerusalem Post Editorial Board said. This was a good opportunity to speak out against Smotritch’s homophobia and racism. But what was gained by playing into this style of local Israeli politics? The Post wrote about the Board’s actions: “doing so achieves very little. The banned politician can play the victim card, can cry foul, and receives media attention he or she otherwise never would have benefited. Did anyone even know that Smotrich was going to the UK? Did anyone even care?” A calm statement would have achieved much more. Once again, both sides of Israeli politics got to eat popcorn at Diaspora Jewry’s expense, and little was achieved for our own communities or for the already strained Israeli-Diaspora relationship. Let us work towards a healthier relationship built on mutual care and concern, benefitting our respective communities and stronger bonds of Jewish peoplehood.

About the Author
The writer is an eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network
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