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President condemns UK Jewry’s leading group for lambasting visiting far-right MK

Defending Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich, Herzog calls remarks by the Board of Deputies against him ‘deeply insulting’ and divisive

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

President Isaac Herzog speaks during a ceremony announcing the winners of the Wolf Foundation award, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog speaks during a ceremony announcing the winners of the Wolf Foundation award, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog on Monday railed against the British Jewry umbrella organization the Board of Deputies for denouncing far-right Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich in a tweet earlier this month, calling the remarks “deeply insulting” to the parliamentarian.

“I found the Board of Deputies’ recent English and Hebrew tweets concerning MK Smotrich a few weeks ago deeply inappropriate. The Hebrew version was downright insulting, and elicited great discomfort,” Herzog said, speaking to the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Jerusalem.

On February 9, Smotrich traveled to the United Kingdom to meet with a number of Jewish groups there, specifically to denounce plans by the Israeli government to reform the process of converting to Judaism by removing the Chief Rabbinate’s sole control over the procedure.

In response to his trip, the Board of Deputies issued a rare Hebrew tweet, condemning the far-right lawmaker, who has regularly spoken out against the LGBT community and Arabs, as well as Reform Jews, who he once said practiced a “fake religion.” In its tweet, the organization wrote that it “rejects the abominable views and the hate-provoking ideology of Bezalel Smotrich.”

It also called for “all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door” and said the parliamentarian would be “remembered as a disgrace forever.”

Smotrich, in turn, dismissed the Board of Deputies, one of British Jewry’s largest organizations, as a “small group” trying to “silence” him.

In his speech, Herzog hailed Smotrich as being open to “sincere dialogue with many Jewish communities which have substantially different values and agendas [than him].”

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, left, and Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party at an election campaign tour at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 19, 2021, four days before the general election. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The president criticized the Board of Deputies’ statement as divisive and said that Jewish communities outside of Israel could not expect that their leaders be treated with dignity in Israel if they did not reciprocate.

“I’m certain the message was retweeted and applauded. But now — what have we gained? The gap [between Israel and Jewish communities abroad] has grown,” Herzog said.

The president called on the Board of Deputies to “invite Bezalel Smotrich to a conversation. Sound your pain, express your views and reservations. Protest and debate. But do so as you sit down and talk. We cannot allow ourselves another rift in the Jewish people.”

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