Far-right Israeli minister Bezalel Smotrich to speak to US-based Israel Bonds group on his first US trip as minister


(JTA) — The U.S.-based Israel Bonds organization is set to host Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right Israeli government minister, at an upcoming conference.

The decision stands in contrast to hundreds of rabbis who have said they will not welcome Smotrich, the finance minister and leader of the far-right Religious Zionism Party, into their synagogues. They have encouraged other groups to follow suit.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency confirmed Wednesday that Smotrich, who has a history of bigoted statements, will be addressing the Washington, D.C. leadership meeting of the Development Corporation for Israel-State of Israel Bonds, which takes place from March 12-14. Smotrich was recently given authority over civilian life in Israel’s West Bank settlements. He has spent the past several days issuing conflicting statements about whether Huwara, a Palestinian village where settlers rioted and burned buildings following the murder of two Israelis, should be wiped out.

A source familiar with the gathering of Israel Bonds, which sells Israeli government bonds to investors abroad, confirmed Smotrich will be speaking. A spokeswoman for the group said it will not be commenting and that the leadership meeting will be closed to press. Israel Bonds CEO Dani Naveh, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not return messages sent via email, text message and LinkedIn.

A day later, a spokesman reached out to JTA. He would not confirm Smotrich’s attendance, but said that it was routine for Israel Bonds to welcome Israeli finance ministers.

“As part of their long-established responsibilities, Israel’s finance ministers from across the political spectrum have historically, over Israel Bonds’ 72-year history, attended our events,” the spokesman said. “One of the organization’s most unique and paramount attributes is that it remains unbiased with regard to any political party or affiliation, enabling all to show unwavering support for the wellbeing of Israel and its people, through investments in Israel bonds.”

Israel Bonds does have an interest in the particulars of Smotrich’s job. It works closely with the Finance Ministry to determine where to invest in the country’s economy. It has not been shy in the past about featuring its collaboration with previous finance ministers.

The entry of Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party into the government has triggered a crisis for some American Jewish organizations, who oppose Smotrich’s views on Palestinians and minority groups in Israel. Smotrich supports annexing West Bank settlements to Israel and has called himself a “proud homophobe”.

On Wednesday, he said that the West Bank village of Hawara should be “wiped out” by the government, but later backtracked and wrote on social media that he meant Israel should be “acting in a targeted way against terrorists and supporters of terror.”

More than 330 rabbis have said they will not welcome Smotrich and others in his party into their congregations, and that they will lobby others in the community to boycott them. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held its colloquy in Israel last month and did not host any sessions with ministers from the Religious Zionism Party, though it did invite them to a lunch for all members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Israel Bonds is a member of the conference.

There have been reports that the Biden administration will also not entertain meetings with members of the Religious Zionism Party.

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