Smotrich appearance in New York prompts protest at wrong location

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made a previously unannounced visit to a New York City Jewish site last night, prompting minor protests at a different location.

Smotrich made the visit to the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch, the resting place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the spiritual leader of the Chabad movement.

Smotrich appears to have organized the visit with a member of the Chabad community from Israel, without coordinating with the movement’s leadership in New York.

Protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul and the far-right minister caught wind of Smotrich’s planned visit shortly beforehand, and staged a small rally against his appearance in New York.

However, the demonstrators believed Smotrich was going to visit Chabad’s World Headquarters, located next to Schneerson’s former residence. The headquarters are in the borough of Brooklyn and the Ohel is in Queens.

The demonstrators, representing a protest group of Israeli expats in New York and other groups of mainly left-wing US Jews, gathered outside the headquarters in the rain, bearing signs, and were greeted by Chabad community members with hot drinks.

Smotrich says he plans to meet other Jewish community leaders while in New York, without specifying who. The Orthodox Union and Zionist Organization of America have said they plan to meet with Smotrich, who has been shunned by other US Jewish groups and American officials.

The Ohel is a major religious site for Jews in New York, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, including Jews from different movements, non-Jews and elected officials from Israel and the US.

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