We don’t know how good the soundproofing is at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Washington, or what floor Bezalel Smotrich was staying on this weekend. But the Israeli finance minister must have heard the crowd gathered on the sidewalk. And the one word, shouted at the top of their lungs, which was also written on their signs: “Shame!”
On Sunday, March 12, a few hundred people gathered to protest the visit of this far-right, openly racist figure – a figure embodying the religious nationalism that imposes its vision and projects on the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the scale of Washington and the usual demonstrations of Jewish diaspora organizations, attendance was substantial. It was intended as an echo of solidarity with the historic protests that have been taking place in Israel’s streets for weeks against the attempted scuttling of the Supreme Court by the ruling right. In addition to the police presence, the hotel lobby was packed with nervous security guards scrutinizing each new entrant.
In one of the conference rooms, the Israeli minister was the guest of honor of the Israel Bonds organization, which promotes the purchase of government bonds. Congratulating itself on having raised $48 billion (€45 billion) for Israel in its history, the organization defended itself in a statement from any partisan commitment.
Smotrich’s very visit to the country was questioned. The State Department considered the possibility of not granting him an official visa because of his comments about the Palestinian village of Hawara, which he proposed to “wipe off the map”. Smotrich apologized, unconvincingly. “It happens to everyone,” he wrote on Twitter. Nearly all Jewish organizations have refused contact with the minister, including those usually respecting neutrality on partisan issues.
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Smotrich has served as a unifying element for those dozens of Jewish organizations that reject his intolerant and radical understanding of Judaism. But beyond the personality of the new minister, they do not necessarily agree on the link between the Israeli right’s attack on the rule of law and the issue of the occupation in the West Bank, which is increasingly a de facto annexation. Some want to address only the former, so as not to tear each other apart again.