IS THIS THE ISRAEL UK JEWS WANT?
Does the current direction of Israeli politics give you cause for hope or despair?
It is time for British Jews to be honest with themselves about the upcoming election in Israel.
In less than two weeks, millions of Israelis will wearily vote in their fifth election in four years. The protracted political crisis there is not over – and the opinion polls suggest this election will do little to change it.
But the polls also tell us something new: the most potently far-right parties in Israel’s history are on the verge of real power.
It is a danger too great for UK Jewry to ignore.
The alliance between Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party and the even more extremist Jewish Power, a Kahanist movement led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, is not new. Both men are Knesset members right now and when their two parties ran together in last year’s election, they won six seats.
That was a record for the far right, yet on Tuesday two separate polls projected they would double the tally.
Israel’s Channel 11 and Channel 12 say the alliance could take 14 seats, comfortably making it the third-largest bloc in the Knesset.
Of the two leaders, Smotrich is better known to a British audience, not least because of a flying visit he made to London in February when nearly all major Jewish communal organisations refused to meet him.
The Board of Deputies even advised him to get back on his plane and return to Israel.
The reason for that rejection is Smotrich’s record. He has made a career out of denouncing everything he perceives to be a threat to a Jewish Israel. Over the years his targets have predictably included Palestinians and Arabs, as well as anyone who is not heterosexual.
He has also denounced Jews: Bezalel Smotrich considers non-Orthodox streams of Judaism to be a threat to Israel. For someone who happily admits he became religious later in life, he is quite prepared to pass judgement on other people’s faith choices. He believes Reform Jewish conversions should be outlawed.
Smotrich has made a career out of denouncing everything he perceives to be a threat to a Jewish Israel – that includes non heterosexuals.
Astonishingly, his political partner Ben-Gvir is even more extreme. In 1995, he notoriously appeared on television brandishing an emblem ripped from the car of Israel’s then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
“We got to his car, and we’ll get to him, too,” he told the camera. Weeks later, Rabin was assassinated.
And it is not an isolated case: Ben-Gvir still openly praises Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli behind the 1994 Hebron massacre in which 29 Palestinians died and more than a hundred were injured. As recently as two years ago, Ben-Gvir kept a photograph of Goldstein hanging on his living room wall.
The vast majority of British Jews are repulsed by these men. It is tragic enough that they hold seats in the most vibrant chamber of democracy in the Middle East, the Israeli Knesset. Worse is that their bloc’s electoral surge could equip them with real power.
It raises a question that British Jews have perhaps been ignoring for too long: how do we respond?
Their alliance was forged in absentia by Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition leader who hopes to return for another term as prime minister. An electoral surge next month would make ministerial jobs for both far-right leaders far more likely. Rumours suggest Ben-Gvir is being considered for justice minister. Smotrich has previously been transport minister, a relatively innocuous role, although he has coveted the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
It raises a question that British Jews have perhaps been ignoring for too long: how do we respond? There is no question of diminishing our support for Israel as a country, but for the first time we face the prospect of that country being represented by intolerance.
If Bezalel Smotrich or Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Britain as ministers, some of us might be tempted to overlook their views and welcome them as representatives of the State of Israel. Some may even encourage the British government to do the same. We must stand against that.
Hatred is a powerful tool. Jews need no lessons on what can happen when it is allowed to flourish. It is difficult to stand up to odious views from within our own community but that is why we must find the courage to do it.
Israel is on a dangerous path and we must not ignore it.
VOICE OF THE JEWISH NEWS – 20 oktober 2022