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Bezalel Smotrich Is a Darkness Unto the Jews

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset in October
MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset in OctoberCredit: נועם מושקוביץ'/ דו
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

For the first time in its history, the Board of Deputies of British Jews – a conservative organization whose membership includes mainly Orthodox communities – issued a statement in Hebrew. The reason was a visit to Britain by MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism).

“We reject Bezalel Smotrich’s loathsome opinions and his ideology, which sows hatred,” the statement said. “And we urge all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door.”

Granted, Smotrich claimed this statement was issued by a progressive minority. But since then, the British branches of Bnei Akiva and World Mizrachi, both religious Zionist organizations, have joined the statement. Thus, we can say with certainty that diverse strands of British Jewry have taken steps to show Britain as a whole that Smotrich doesn’t represent them.

There’s currently no one else in the Knesset who advertises Jewish supremacy on his T-shirt the way Smotrich does, aside from the anomaly known as MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. Smotrich has made himself the ultimate example of a supremacist – someone who believes in the superiority of his race.

This is a view that even British and American conservatives associate with antisemites and neo-Nazis, including some of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s diehard fans, who believe in the great replacement theory. This is an import from the French nationalist right which holds that a deliberate effort is being made to replace the superior white race with Jews.

Two processes led to the moment when a Jewish umbrella organization spoke out so harshly against an Israeli member of parliament. The first is generational change.

The younger generation of Diaspora Jews grew up amid the zeitgeist and was exposed at university to criticism of the way power is divvied up, racism and the various incarnations of post-colonialist theory. For this generation, instead of Israeli representatives being a light unto the nations, some of them – Smotrich and his ilk – have become a darkness unto the Jews and a cause of shame and anxiety.

And since the proper order of things is that the younger generation foments change and the older generation adapts to it, Jewish conservatives were left with no choice but to distance themselves from Smotrich and those like him. And this process will only intensify.

But there’s something else that evidently hasn’t been grasped here: Benjamin Netanyahu chose the nationalist right as his ally. From Trump to Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, he hooked up with overt antisemites and people supported by racists who pose a threat to the Jewish minority in their own countries.

The rise in antisemitic crime didn’t occur in isolation from this wave of right-wing populism. This is what happened in the United States, Hungary, Poland and other countries. It has also reached England.

Put simply, the populist right may have been Netanyahu’s ally, but it isn’t the Jews’ ally. Today, any public connection between an Israeli nationalist like Smotrich and Diaspora Jewry merely inflames the old antisemitic allegation of dual loyalty. And the fact that he said he intended to hold discussions with rabbis about “Jewish identity and the connection with Israel” didn’t calm anyone down. Quite the opposite.

The point is that while Smotrich thinks he can convince Israelis he’s not persona non grata among Diaspora Jews, this is a wasted effort. Israelis have gotten used to him and his sickening ideology. The transplant was carried out successfully and the body accepted the racist organ. But that hasn’t happened in Diaspora Jewish communities.

This is an important reminder for anyone who thinks the biggest threat to Israel is BDS. It turns out that the nationalism emanating from religious Zionist circles poses far more danger to Israel overseas.

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