NEW YORK (VINnews) — Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke at the Israel Bonds organization on Sunday evening and stressed once again his regret for a remark made in the wake of the Hawara riots after the murder of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv HyD on February 26.
Smotrich had stated that although vigilante actions were wrong, the village should be “wiped out” by Israel. Smotrich’s words, carrying especial weight due to his position as a minister in the Defense Ministry and member of Israel’s security cabinet, led to scurrilous international condemnation, with State Department spokesman Ned Price called the statement ‘repugnant’ and “disgusting’ and demanded that they be repudiated. The US even considered barring Smotrich’s entry into the country and decided to shun his visit completely, with no diplomatic meetings scheduled with the Israeli government representative.
“I want to say a few words about the elephant in the room,” Smotrich told the group.
“As I have already said and written and repeat now with sincere regret, my comments about Hawara created a completely mistaken impression. I stand before you now as always committed to the security of the state of Israel, to our shared values, and to the highest moral commitment of our armed forces to protect every innocent life, Jew or Arab,” Smotrich stressed.
“Judaism has always known controversies. We can even say it was built on controversies. Disagreement is not something that should scare us. On the contrary, it enriches us,” the minister said.
“There are among us religious and secular people, reform, conservative, unaffiliated, and others. In Israel, we have big differences, but for one moment we must not forget that we are brothers.”
“Despite all of the differences, despite the many colors that make up the Jewish mosaic, we are one,” Smotrich added, noting that they all had the same goal of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, a watchword for many progressive American Jews he once disparaged.
“Together I have no doubt that we will succeed,” he added.
Yet left-wing demonstrators outside the Israel Bonds meeting were unimpressed, citing their opposition both to the judicial reforms currently being passed in Israel and to Smotrich himself for his remarks and his conservative values.
“To our Israeli sisters and brothers, we say: ‘We are with you at every moment in your struggle against racism, against homophobia, against extremism and for democracy, tolerance, equality and human rights,’” declared Susie Gelman, who chairs the board of the center-left Israel Policy Forum. “We are here tonight because the racism, homophobia and extremism of Bezalel Smotrich do not and must not represent the values of Israelis and Jewish people worldwide.”
Rabbi Andy Gordon and Rabbi Alyssa Sachs Cohen who attended the rally came from Baltimore, Maryland. “As American Jews, we have a really strong relationship with Israel and we love Israel but it’s important for us to care about the values that Israel was founded upon; The idea of democracy, the idea that it’s a Jewish homeland for all, and that we care for all Israel citizens,” said Cohen.
“Democracy in Israel is essential to the soul of the nation,” said Sachs-Cohen. “I care about Israel, and I want to see Israel remain a democratic state for all.”
Arie Liebowitz from New York said: “Israel is very important in our lives and the lives of many people around the world as a democratic society, as a Jewish society. I’m opposed to the policies of the current government. I have friends and family living in Israel and I want them to know that we support them and we hope soon that things will change for the better.”
Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer spoke at the rally, which was organized by UnXeptable. “While American Jews respect the right of Israelis to elect whomever they choose, we have the right to express support for democracy, whether here or in Israel,” she said.
“We also have the right – indeed the obligation – to speak out when Israeli officials express views that are antithetical to the very foundation of US-Israel relations,” added Soifer. She went on to say that “Israel Bonds is wrong to have provided Minister Smotrich this platform, and we are here today to make it clear that his rhetoric is an affront to our Jewish and democratic values, which Jewish Dems will continue to defend in Israel and in the United States.”
Smotrich has effectively been shunned not just by US government officials but by virtually all Jewish groups in the US. Seventy-three liberal Jewish organizations signed onto a pledge against hosting Smotrich, three of whom called on the Biden administration to deny him the visa needed to enter the country. Major mainstream organizations such as the Conference of Presidents, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League have elected not to meet with Smotrich, although they didn’t sign on the boycott pledge.
Only the OU and the Zionist Organization of America said that they would meet with Smotrich during his visit to the US.