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Israel's ambassador to UK shared platform with 'disgraceful' Smotrich

Tzipi Hotovely called for annexation of West Bank at conference where she spoke alongside far-right leader condemned by UK's Board of Deputies
Tzipi Hotovely (centre) at the 2019 conference with Bezalel Smotrich (right), where they presented an award to Israeli settlers (Ribonut)

Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, shared a platform at a 2019 conference calling for the annexation of the occupied West Bank with a far-right politician condemned by the Board of Deputies, the main representative body of British Jews.

Speaking alongside Bezalel Smotrich, leader of Israel’s Religious Zionist Party, at the conference organised by the B'Sheva newspaper in an illegal West Bank settlement, Hotovely said the time for annexation was “ripe”.

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Smotrich is currently on a tour of the UK and France, reportedly seeking to drum up support in Jewish communities against Israeli government plans to ease the process of conversion to Judaism.

The Board of Deputies (BoD) said earlier this week that Smotrich, a political ally of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was not welcome in the UK, condemning his “abominable views” and calling on British Jews to “show him the door”.

Tweeting in Hebrew, the BoD, which describes itself as “the voice of the UK Jewish community”, wrote: “Get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever".

Both Smotrich, a member of the Knesset since 2015, and Hotovely were members of Netanyahu’s coalition government at the time of the 2019 conference. Smotrich was transport minister, and Hotovely was deputy foreign minister.

Nakba 'a lie'

Hotovely was appointed Israel’s ambassador in London in August 2020. She has previously been criticised for comments she made at a BoD-organised online event in which she described the Nakba - the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the lands of modern-day Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war - as “a very popular Arab lie”.

Hotovely has long been a major supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and has described herself as “a religious right-winger".

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Before being appointed ambassador in London, she is reported to have invited a far-right group to speak at the Knesset.

In 2019 she accused the BoD of “working against Israeli interests” after it expressed support for a Palestinian state, which she has staunchly opposed.

Calling for the annexation of the entire West Bank at the September 2019 conference in the illegal West Bank settlement of Kedem, Hotovely is reported to have said: “The time is ripe for that.

“In the past we were the extremists, the delusional, the dreamers and the proponents of the most impossible solution to the conflict,” she said, according to a report of the event posted by Ribonut, a pro-settlement Israeli movement. Ribonut means sovereignty in Hebrew. Photos of the event posted by Ribonut show Hotovely and Smotrich presenting an award to settlers.

The conference took place days before Knesset elections, after a campaign in which Netanyahu had vowed to annex the strategic Jordan Valley area of the West Bank and Israeli settlements if re-elected.

Smotrich told the conference that applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements only was a “dangerous” move.

“Sovereignty over the settlements is a tempting move, but it abandons most of the territory, and there is a seeming statement that the rest of the territory is not ours. This is dangerous because it is 95 percent of the territory,” he said.

'Racist and virulent homophobe'

The British government has also faced calls from Palestinian advocacy organisations, other Jewish groups and Muslim organisations to expel Smotrich since his arrival on Wednesday.

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In a letter sent on behalf of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, Crispin Blunt, a Conservative Party Member of Parliament, called on the Home Office to revoke his entry clearance on the grounds that his presence in the UK was “non-conducive to the public good”.

Na'amod, a British Jewish organisation that campaigns against the occupation of Palestinian land, said Smotrich was a "far-right racist and virulent homophobe" whose views had no place in Britain.

"The Board of Deputies have already made it clear that Smotrich is not welcome in our community," Na'amod told Middle East Eye. "Their statement reflects the increasing influence of British Jewish groups like Na’amod, who are not willing to turn a blind eye to racism and oppression when it comes to Israel."

In an interview with Israel’s i24 news on Thursday, Michael Wegier, the BoD’s chief executive, reiterated his organisation’s criticism of Smotrich, citing its campaigning against anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and racism.

“In order for us to have credibility in those campaigns against hatred against Israel and the Jews we have to be honest with ourselves, have integrity and not allow for the normalisation or legitimisation of the disgraceful views of Knesset Member Smotrich,” said Wegier.

Responding in an interview on Thursday with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Smotrich cited reports of a rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and compared British Jewish leaders to the Jewish community in 1930s Nazi Germany prior to the Holocaust.

"The response to anti-Semitism must be a strong and secure Israel that can justify the Zionist vision and the belonging of Israel to the Land of Israel and the entire Jewish people,” he said.

MEE has contacted the BoD and the Israeli embassy in London for comment.

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