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Far-right Israeli ambassador in London causes Liberal Judaism split

Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely in the West Bank on 3 November 2015 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images]
Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely in the West Bank on 3 November 2015 [MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images]

Liberal Jews in Britain demanded the cancellation of an event with controversial Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely this week. More than 30 "proud and committed Liberal Jews" backed an open letter critical of yesterday's online meeting, but the leadership of Liberal Judaism —-an affiliate of the World Union for Progressive Judaism — insisted on going ahead with the programme, triggering outrage and resignations.

The event was hosted by Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Liberal Judaism's Chief Executive Officer. Promotion for the event on the group's website acknowledged that Hotovely's "appointment was met with some concern by Liberal and Progressive Jews."

The open letter to the leadership published in the Jewish Chronicle said: "We are sure that Rabbi Charley will ask challenging and important questions. But no question will negate the fact that Hotovely has been given the honour of the invitation and our community has therefore become that much more tolerant of racism." The group claimed that the event would confer a "symbolic platform and endorsement," referring to the far-right ambassador's comments and views about Palestine and the Palestinians.

In protest, Omar Portillo resigned as chair of Liberal Judaism's Black Jews and Jews of Colour Action Group, which was established last summer when the Black Lives Matter movement assumed new prominence. Explaining his resignation from the action group, Portillo tweeted: "Providing Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely [with] a platform is not consistent with the anti-racist values that I understand Liberal Judaism to hold."

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On Wednesday, Liberal Judaism defended its decision to host the former Likud MP while acknowledging that it would continue to speak out when warranted against actions or statements made by the Israeli government or its envoy.

Hotovely was appointed as Israel's ambassador to the UK in June. She used her first speech at an event organised by pro-Israel lobby group the Board of Deputies of British Jews to describe the 1948 Nakba as "a very strong and very popular Arab lie". More than 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes and land when the Zionist state of Israel was created in occupied Palestine.

Sections of the British Jewish community campaigned against her appointment. Nearly 1,500 British Jews signed a petition calling on the Boris Johnson government to reject it. "Hotovely has demonstrated a complete disregard for international law throughout her political career, and has an appalling record of racist and inflammatory behaviour," the petition pointed out.

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