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Zionist Federation's night of controversy prompts apology and acrimony

Presence of arch-controversialist Katie Hopkins was just one of the issues arising from a divisive event

    Ms Hopkins was delighted to meet Israel's ambassador Mark Regev
    Ms Hopkins was delighted to meet Israel's ambassador Mark Regev

    The Zionist Federation (ZF) has “unreservedly apologised” after it emerged that Katie Hopkins, the right-wing commentator who once called for a “final solution”, attended its gala dinner.

    The former Daily Mail columnist tweeted on Sunday: “Lovely to spend time with friends & supporters @ZionistFed celebrating 70 years of Israeli Independence. Go Bibi. Go Israel.”

    Ms Hopkins caused outrage in May last year when she called for a “final solution” in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing which claimed the lives of 23 people. The offending tweet was subsequently deleted.

    Ms Hopkins did not speak at the ZF event, which celebrated 70 years of the founding of Israel, and the organisation confirmed it had not invited her.

    Images later surfaced on Twitter of Ms Hopkins posing for photographs with Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to the UK.

    Paul Charney, the ZF chairman, said: “For clarification purposes, Katie Hopkins was not invited directly by the ZF to our annual dinner, but as a guest of a guest.

    “A photo at the event with Ambassador Regev was taken during a long line of fans queuing for a photo with His Excellency and should not reflect on him or on the embassy.

    “On behalf of the ZF we unreservedly apologise for any offence caused by Ms Hopkins’s presence, and will look to learn the lessons for the future.”

    The Israeli embassy in London declined to comment.

    There was further controversy at the dinner when a former Israeli government minister was heckled by a rabbi, who then walked out.

    Gideon Sa’ar, who was Education and Interior Affairs Minister, was challenged over his comments on the deportation of African asylum-seekers in Israel — a policy he endorsed while in government.

    Mr Sa’ar told the 300 guests: “We are not deporting asylum-seekers.”

    In response, audience member Rabbi Lea Mühlstein shouted out: “Yes you are.”

    She then left the event with Rabbi Celia Surget and another woman.

    Mr Sa’ar continued: “As a matter of fact, they are not refugees. It is an illegal immigration wave that we knew about a decade ago. We are handling it according to our laws.”

    There are around 38,000 asylum-seekers — many from Sudan and Eritrea — who are living in Israel.

    It is understood that the majority crossed into Israel illegally from the Sinai border. The border was subsequently sealed by Israeli authorities with an electronic fence that was completed in 2014.

    African asylum seekers in Israel are being deported to third-party countries including Rwanda.

    In conversation with former JC journalist Sandy Rashty, Mr Sa’ar was asked whether he understood why the policy had caused so much upset in the community.

    He said: “No, I don’t understand.

    “Shall I remind you, that our country received Jewish refugees from all over the world — more than any country on earth.”

    As an unidentified audience member called out that Mr Sa’ar was only referring to “Jewish” refugees, he continued: “This is the only Jewish state. We are fighting and we will fight until our last day, that it will remain the Jewish state…

    “We are the only Western country on earth, with a common border with the continent of Africa. If we will be weak on that point, we will very shortly [have] on our shoulders, a problem of a huge continent. Our mission is to keep, to preserve and to protect our state for future generations.

    “And if it is not ‘nice’… I respect every view.”

    Speaking after the event, Rabbi Mühlstein, of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synaogue, said she could not sit through Mr Sa’ar’s comments.

    A supporter of the ZF charity, she said she thought there should have been an opportunity for a Q&A with audience members.

    Rabbi Mühlstein, who co-signed a letter by 60 rabbis protesting against the deportations which was delivered to the Israeli embassy in London in January, said: “There was no alternative view put across — a variety of views should be put across … so I did not want to be party to that.”

    She added: “His position was left to stand. I felt that there was no point at all in hearing that. I felt deeply uncomfortable, feeling as though I should be there supporting it, when it was not representative of my views.”

    Rabbi Surget, the associate rabbi of Radlett Reform Synagogue, said she would not have walked out if there had been a chance to respond to Mr Sa’ar.

    She said: “As a progressive Zionist rabbi, the views he was presenting were not views I support at all. Had there be an opportunity for a dialogue with audience members, it would have been different.

    “As a rabbi who signed the petition, I didn’t feel I could stay.”

    At the event, Mr Sa’ar, a member of the Likud Party, dismissed the prospect of a two-state solution, describing it as “a two-state slogan”. He also said the settlements were “an issue that belongs in the past.

    “We have half a million Israeli citizens in the settlements — it is irreversible. And I don’t think it is an obstacle to peace.”

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