Far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich called on observant Jews to boycott members of the ruling coalition, declaring that “anyone who is part of this government should not be admitted into a synagogue.”
“Whoever lied, cheated, stole votes, joined the far-left that harms everything holy in Israel, whoever sold out the country to the Islamic movement and is now going to do the same to terror supporters on the Joint List – is definitely not worthy of attending prayers over this coming Passover," the head of the Religious Zionist Party told national broadcaster Kan on Tuesday.
“People who turned their backs on the public should feel unwanted,” Smotrich said.
The United Arab List, the Islamist party headed by Mansour Abbas Smotrich was referring to, is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's coalition. The Joint List, a three-way political alliance of Arab-majority parties, is in the opposition and highly unlikely to support the government, according to its leaders.
Following public backlash, Smotrich changed his tune and said on Facebook that members of the government “deserve to feel unwanted in public,” but that he was not actively calling for a boycott, only describing that which he called “natural and desirable.”
Bennett hit back at Smotrich on Wednesday: “What is this? A Jew should boycott another Jew in the synagogue? Our state was destroyed for this 2,000 years ago,” he said, referring to a Talmudic story about how a feud between Jews escalated into the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
“I am a right-winger, there are left-wing people in government, and I see that people with different opinions also love this country,” Bennett said. "Leftists love the country not a millimeter less than me. I do not have a monopoly over the love of the Land of Israel, just as the other side has no monopoly on human love or love of peace.”
Smotrich has a history of stoking controversy. This February, the Board of Deputies of British Jews publicly denounced his “hateful ideology," after he kick-started a Europe tour to rally against efforts to end the rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut and conversion.
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The group tweeted in Hebrew that they "reject his abominable views and hateful ideology," before ordering the Israeli lawmaker in English to "get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever."
In response, President Isaac Herzog spoke out against the British Jewish community’s “downright insulting” rejection of Smotrich, saying that while he has “never supported Bezalel Smotrich’s opinions,” he respects democracy and is a “firm believer in open, sincere communication and dialogue.”
Smotrich, once Prime Minister Bennett's colleague at Habayit Hayehudi party, has become a staunch critic of him and was ejected from the Knesset for disrupting the right-wing politician’s final speech before being sworn in as premier last June.
During Bennett’s address ahead of the lawmakers' vote of confidence, Smotrich yelled “shame” at the then-prime minister designate while holding pictures of Israelis killed by Palestinians, before getting ousted from the Knesset hall.