Poor Bezalel Smotrich. All he wanted to do was alert the Jewish communities in Europe about what he calls the dramatic changes the Israeli government is promoting regarding the Jewish identity of the state, with an emphasis on the conversion reform and its impact on the entire Jewish world (Smotrich Launches Anti-Conversion Reform European Tour). But did they listen? You decide.
On Wednesday night, only hours after the Religious Zionism chairman landed in London, someone at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the largest Jewish communal organization in the United Kingdom, tweeted this exceptionally rude statement, in Hebrew, so that the Israeli visitor understand:
We reject Bezalel Smotrich’s heinous views and his hate-mongering ideology and call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door. Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and live in infamy. You are not welcome here.”
אנו דוחים את דעותיו המתועבות ואת האידיאולוגיה אשר מעוררת שנאה של בצלאל סמוטריץ’ וקוראים לכל חברי הקהילה היהודית הבריטית להראות לו את הדלת. תחזור למטוס בצלאל, ותהיה לדיראון עולם. אתה לא רצוי כאן.
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) February 9, 2022
They then added a clarification for the non-Hebrew speakers online: “The translation function doesn’t quite convey the meaning of the last phrase. It’s more like: ‘Get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever.'”
The disputed term here is “dera’on olam,” which literally does mean eternal disgrace, but I was looking for a more organic translation and checked the website of the Hebrew Academy, which suggests: “(For a very negative act) A shame and a disgrace that will never be forgotten.” And that immediately bought to mind FDR’s statement after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy.” So I’m going with “live in infamy.”
I reported on Wednesday morning that MK Smotrich is traveling to Europe to share his own perception of the Matan Kahana conversion reform, and to help make sure that their voices are also heard. He noted: “Having been exposed to the intensity of the fear of the changes in the issues of conversion, I changed my habit to leave Israel as little as possible, and decided to pay a lightning visit to the European communities.”
I also added, for the record, that the conversion reform bill allows city rabbis to establish conversion tribunals under the state conversion system, in a singular system of rules of procedure, supervision, and control, with uniform certificates given to all the converts. The Chief Rabbis and the Chief Rabbinical Council would have the authority to revoke the appointment of a conversion dayan in the event of a violation of the rules of procedure.
But I doubt very much that the nasty welcome from the largest organization of UK Jews had much to do with differences over the subtleties of this or that Knesset legislation. I think they simply hate Smotrich and everything they believe he represents. Smotrich’s ally in the Knesset, Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir, put it in an equally nasty response: “The organization of British Jews has been infected with leftist Reform, and forgot what it means to be Jewish. Unfortunately, the exile has not left them and will not leave until they ascend to Israel.”
I identify with Ben Gvir’s sentiment and his impulse to defend a friend, but his short statement is inaccurate and logically twisted: first, the Board of Deputies of British Jews includes Orthodox communities, and in 2021, the Board received its first Haredi Deputy since the 1970s, from a Synagogue in Stamford Hill. The board is decidedly not leftist, and although it includes Reform deputies, it also maintains close ties with the Jewish Leadership Council, which is an umbrella group for Jewish community organizations, charities, Zionist and pro-Israel advocacy groups.
As to the logical problem in Ben Gvir’s statement: if the exile will not leave UK Jews until they make aliyah, what’s the point of Smotrich’s enlightening them on the subtleties of Minister Matan Kahana’s conversion reform?
Former Likud MK and a sweet soul, Yehudah Glick, replied to the Board’s tweet, saying: “Not a very smart announcement. But you have your right to behave that way. Just for your interest, Israel is a democracy, the only one in the Middle East, and here we believe in respecting even those whom we don’t agree with. Happy to help.”
Which makes you wonder who sells Yehuda Glick his mind-expanding substances and where can I get some?
Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai (Labor) rebuked Smotrich who set out to do Shai’s job. Upon Landing, Smotrich tweeted: “I landed in England a few minutes ago for a series of meetings with rabbis, community leaders, and Jewish organizations. The State of Israel has a responsibility and commitment to world Jewry. Everything is being done to make their voices and needs be heard in the Knesset. The damage to the Jewish identity led by the government affects the entire Jewish people. It is our duty to be attentive to our brethren in the Diaspora.”
Diaspora Minister Shai responded: “Bezalel, it is our duty to be attentive to our brethren in the Diaspora. This is exactly what the government and I within it are leading here, listening to all the streams in Judaism and including them. The Jewish identity in 2022 is broad and diverse, and if all of us don’t understand this, we may lose large parts of the Jewish people.”
Minister Shai added a few hours later: “Smotrich has nothing to look for in Britain, the community there has already spoken. Racism has no place anywhere. Go back home.” It was an underhanded stab that completely distorted Smotrich’s intent. Calling Smotrich a racist is tantamount to calling Jewish law racist.
It was a good retort, which stressed the obvious fact that when Smotrich says “Jewish identity,” he means Orthodox Jewish identity, based on Orthodox Jewish law. This also means that the Smotrich visit is more likely to widen the gap between Orthodox and other Jewish communities in the UK at a time when they should stick together to face rising antisemitism and deal with rampant intermarriages.
Other far-leftwing coalition members also joined in the attack on Smotrich.
“I heard Smotrich complain that ‘progressives’ have taken over the Jewish community in Britain,” tweeted far-left Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) in Hebrew. “No Bezalel, it is your party’s racism and Kahanism that are disgusting the Jewish community in Britain, which have always pushed for tolerance, equality and justice.”
MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) and a Reform clergyman tweeted, “There is nothing surprising about Diaspora Jews answering Smotrich in a language he understands. The man traveled to Britain in order to deepen the division and the tension between different factions and communities. It is good that the organization that represents Britain’s Jews set aside traditional British manners in favor of Israeli chutzpah.”
Finally, after the rude attack on him, MK Smotrich took the high road and tweeted: “British Jews, I love you, all of you.”
יהודי בריטניה, אני אוהב אתכם, את כולכם.
— בצלאל סמוטריץ’ (@bezalelsm) February 9, 2022
He also tweeted this:
גם בלונדון, בסיום מפגש מרתק עם נציגים מכמה קהילות כאן, נפש יהודי הומיה. הייתם צריכים לראות את ההתרגשות על הפנים ואת האהבה והתמיכה במדינת ישראל והציונות. אלה הם פניה האמיתיות של יהדות אנגליה. pic.twitter.com/xP3XP0B5JL
— בצלאל סמוטריץ’ (@bezalelsm) February 9, 2022