Mizrachi movement says it rejects 'prejudice' after controversial meeting with hard-right Israeli MK

Bezalel Smotrich's visit to London provokes widespread condemnation from Jewish community groups


Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ???? ???? ??????? ????? ????? ???????

Mizrachi UK has moved to distance itself from the views of hard-right Israel Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich following a meeting in London between him and the Orthodox Zionist movement's professional head.

The religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva UK has already acknowledged the "hurt and upset" caused by the meeting with Mr Smotrich, which was attended by two of the youth group's shlichim (emissaries) as well as Mizrachi UK chief executive, Rabbi Andrew Shaw.

Mr Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, who was reportedly on a visit to Europe to lobby against planned religious reforms in Israel, has been widely condemned across the UK Jewry with the Board of Deputies urging the community to “show him the door”.

In a statement released late on Thursday afternoon, Mizrachi UK said it had been "invited to a meeting with Bezalel Smotrich. We saw the meeting as an opportunity to share details of our work with a Religious Zionist Member of Knesset and former government minister. 

"We want to make it clear that the meeting should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any of Mr Smotrich’s previous statements. As a religious Zionist organisation, we reject prejudice of any kind."

Bnei Akiva said that the meeting had gone ahead without its knowledge and the emissaries had attended in an individual capacity.

 It reaffirmed its commitment to encouraging “inclusion and acceptance of all and rejecting all forms of racism, homophobia and hate”.

 The Board of Deputies had earlier taken the unusual step of tweeting in Hebrew to reject Mr Smotrich’s “abominable views” and ideology of hatred, saying he was an eternal disgrace and was “not welcome here”.

 Last August Mr Smotrich launched a tirade against Arab Knesset members, saying that that they were “there by mistake – because Ben-Gurion didn't finish the job and throw you out in 1948”.

He has previously said he has a “problem” with LGBT culture and in 2006 was involved in the “Beast Parade” protest against Israel’s annual Gay Pride parade.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai called on Mr Smotrich to come home, saying “there was no place for racism anywhere”.

But the Likud Party hit out at the Board of Deputies’s “rude and disgraceful” tweet.

The Abraham Initiatives UK, which supports Arab-Jewish understanding, said that offering Mr Smotrich a platform was “a disgrace and cannot be tolerated. We are proud to be part of a community that stands firmly against hatred.”

In its statement today, Bnei Akiva said the emissaries who met Mr Smotrich were not representing the movement which was committed to educating its members “towards tolerance and understanding in accordance with the ideals of religious Zionism”.

The Jewish Leadership Council said it would have declined any request to meet the MK. " He has made clear through his divisive rhetoric and actions that he does not uphold the values of tolerance and equality which we pride ourselves on as a community," a spokesman said.

The Zionist Federation said the politician's "far-right politics of hatred and division, whether the targets be the LGBTQ+ community, Reform Jews or Arab Israelis, have no place in this country nor in our community".

But in Israel the denunciation of Mr Smotrich was challenged by the chairman of the World Zionist Organisation, Yaakov Hagoel. "Calls by the Jewish community to boycott certain Israeli leaders actually helps our enemies," the Jerusalem Post reported him as saying.


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