Board of Deputies says far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich 'not wanted'
An umbrella group representing British Jews told an Israeli ultranationalist politician on Thursday that he is unwelcome, drawing outcry from Israeli opposition politicians.
Bezalel Smotrich is leader of the small, far-right Religious Zionist Party in the Knesset that is currently in the opposition. He has a long record of anti-Palestinian and homophobic remarks, and until last year served as a government minister.
Smotrich said in October that David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel, should have "finished the job" of expelling Palestinians from their homeland.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, a prominent organisation that represents the UK's Jewish community and is pro-Israel, tweeted in Hebrew on Thursday that Smotrich, who is visiting the country, is "not wanted here".
"We reject the horrible opinions and hateful ideology of Bezalel Smotrich and call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door," the group said. "Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace to the world. You are not wanted here."
Smotrich, who is also a leading figure in the illegal West Bank settler movement, dismissed the criticism. In a Twitter post, he called the British group a "relic of an old and crumbling establishment" and said he had received dozens of supportive phone calls and apologies from Jewish figures in the UK who wanted to meet him.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said the Board of Deputies’ comment was a "shame", and that by turning away Smotrich they are dismissing a large chunk of Israeli society.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the uproar over Smotrich wasn't surprising.
"If we will let racist voices, racist parties and racist Knesset members to enter Israeli politics, this will harm us abroad, especially with world Jewry," he told a news conference.