Representative of Chabad-Lubavitch UK met far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich

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Representative of Chabad-Lubavitch UK met far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich

Exclusive: Jewish outreach group were with the politician at the same time as the Board of Deputies voiced their disgust at his visit to Britain, telling him to 'get back on the plane'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Bezalel Smotrich (Wikipedia/איתן פולד)
Bezalel Smotrich (Wikipedia/איתן פולד)

Representatives from the Chabad-Lubavitch UK met with far-right Israeli Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich during his visit to the UK last week, Jewish News can reveal.

It is understood that representatives from the Jewish learning and outreach group were with Smotrich at a meeting in London on Wednesday at the same time as the Board of Deputies voiced their disgust at his visit here in a post on Twitter.

Jewish News has learned that an initial approach was made to Rabbi Bentzi Sudak, chief executive at Chabad-Lubavitch UK – although the request was for representatives of the organisation to meet with an unnamed member of the Knesset, who wished to learn more about the organisation’s activities in this country.

During the meeting Smotrich – who is renowned in Israel for his inflammatory views on the Arab and LGBT communities and his refusal to accept Reform Judaism – posted his own response to the Board’s tweet which had urged him to “Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace forever”.

The Religious Zionist Party MK then tweeted:”The entire UK Jewish community, I love you all!”

Confirming the meeting with Smotrich, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch UK told Jewish News: “MK Smotrich asked to meet with Chabad in the UK to learn about our activities here. Chabad-Lubavitch welcomes all Jews from across the spectrum, regardless of whether we share their opinions or beliefs. History has taught us sowing division among Jews only strengthens our enemies.”

While Chabad-Lubavitch attempts to project a stance that does not takes sides politically, in Israel, an analysis of recent election voting showed the far-right religious parties picking up a significant number of votes from the Chabad movement.

Some commentators say this has been driven by the emphasis  of the last leader of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, on preserving Jewish control of the biblical Land of Israel.

In an interview with Israel’s i24 news on Thursday, Michael Wegier, the Board’s chief executive, reiterated his organisation’s criticism of Smotrich,

Wegier said the Israel far-righter’s “views are not normal views.

“We should not allow ourselves to become normalized to racism, which is why we took a clear view about his visit. He is on the outside of the consensus of our Jewish community.”

Arriving in the UK on Wednesday, Smotrich had also been pictured at a meeting with Mizrachi UK chief executive Rabbi Andrew Shaw – and two shlichim (emissaries) from the Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva UK.

Both Mizrachi UK and Bnei Akiva UK released statements attempting to distance their organisations from the meeting.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Smotrich later compared British Jewish leaders to the Jewish community in 1930s Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust.

As debate about the UK community’s response to Smotrich’s visit here was discussed in Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he “warned that if we let racist MKs enter Israeli politics, this will harm us abroad, especially with world Jewry.”

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