'Get Back on the Plane': U.K. Jewish Body Slams Israeli Far-right Lawmaker's Europe Tour

Bezalel Smotrich, a lawmaker from a far-right Religious Zionism party, is touring Europe in a bid to rally communal leaders against conversion and kashrut reform in Israel

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Far-right Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich at a faction meeting, in July.
Far-right Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich at a faction meeting, in July.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The Board of Deputies, a major communal Jewish organization in the U.K., decried far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich's “hateful ideology," as he kick-started a Europe tour to rally against efforts to end the rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut and conversion.

The group tweeted in Hebrew that they "reject his abominable views and hateful ideology," before ordering the member of Knesset to "Get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever" in English.

Smotrich, who heads the far-right Religious Zionism party, began his trip on Wednesday, and is seeking to gather support to combat the proposal for a more decentralized, although still orthodox-dominated, system.

“I am going mainly to hear and make sure that the voice of the communities in the Diaspora is heard,” the Religious Zionism party chairman told orthodox news website Srugim, explaining that he believed changes in the religious status-quo here would have a far-reaching impact across the Diaspora.

The Conference of European Rabbis, which is recognized by the Chief Rabbinate as the sole authority over Jewish conversion in Europe, has come out against the proposed reforms, stating it would not grant recognition to conversions performed outside the established current state conversion courts.

In a letter to Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana published on the right-wing news site Arutz Sheva, the group claimed that making conversion more accessible could have the unintended consequence of “weaken[ing] our battle against assimilation” and “bring disaster upon our communities.”

Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, as well as the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, have been harshly critical of Kahana’s proposed reforms, which would remove their exclusive monopoly over kashrut certification and conversion.

Under Kahana’s conversion plan, municipal rabbis will be empowered to perform conversions which, while adhering to Orthodox Jewish law, will in some cases likely be handled more leniently than by the ultra-Orthodox dominated rabbinate.

In a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett several weeks later, Lau asserted that the passage of the “dangerous” plan would “cause a significant rift in the People of Israel that will not be reconcilable” and “endanger the continuation of our existence as one people in the Land of Israel.”

The two chief rabbis have also claimed that efforts to break up their monopoly over kashrut represented an effort to erode the Jewish character of the state of Israel, warning of what they called “spiritual destruction under the guise of this reform.”

The pair have also warned that Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s plan to open up the so-called “kosher phone” market, describing it as a “grave danger” which can lead to “spiritual destruction.”

In early December, Shas and UTK declared war on the “hellenists” in the government looking to upend the country’s religious status quo, promising to launch a joint national struggle to preserve the state’s “Jewish character.”

During a gathering in the Knesset, which was also attended by members of Smotrich’s Religious Zionist party, lawmakers discussed a range of options for preventing the raft of reforms being promoted by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, including economic boycotts and mass demonstrations.

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