Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday took the unusual step of publicly upbraiding Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely after she said US Jews are “people that never send their children to fight for their country” and that “most of them are having quite convenient lives.”
"Diaspora Jews are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people," he said in a statement Thursday. "There is no room for such an attack, and its words do not reflect the position of the State of Israel."
Tzipi Hotovely appeared Wednesday on i24, an Israel-based English-language news channel. She was addressing increased tensions between Israel and US Jewry, including over restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall and over the Israeli government’s policies on Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians.
Hotovely decried her dis-invitation earlier this month
from the Princeton University Hillel because of her past comments on Israeli Arabs. Hillel later apologized
She said she wished more American Jews would move to Israel to influence the political process there. “One of my goals,” she said, is to “bring American Jews closer to Israel... Everyone is welcome to come here to influence Israeli politics.”
But she then segued into a depiction of US Jews as distant from the sacrifices other Americans make, and the threats that govern life in Israel.
“The other issue is not understanding the complexity of the region,” she said. “People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”
The US military stopped recording the religion of recruits decades ago, but until then Jews served in slightly greater proportion than their percentage in the general population. There continues to be a Jewish presence in the military, including in the highest ranks. Gen. David Lee Goldfein is the US Air Force chief of staff. There is an organized Jewish presence at military academies. A number of Jewish ex-servicemen have run for public office in recent years.
Additionally, a significant proportion of the US Jewish population has lived in Israel, including stints in its military.
Hotovely's office, meanwhile, issued a statement clarifying that her remarks addressed the complexity of life in Israel under the perpetual threat of terrorism and missiles aimed at the civilian population.
"There is great difficulty for people who don’t experience daily life in Israel to understand the Middle East. The gap is due to the different realities of life," the statement added.
The statement went on to say that most of Hotovely’s interview stressed the great importance she attaches to the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
The damage was already done though and Hotovely was on the receiving end of sharp criticism from fellow politicians and religious and civil society groups.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said Hotovely’s remarks were “miserable,” and mocked her for doing civilian service rather than serving in the IDF.
“Netanyahu already condemned her statements, but don’t be confused, she expresses the government’s decision to sacrifice relations with US Jewry for petty politics,” Gabbay said. “We will return to power and fix what this government decided to destroy, including the critical alliance with US Jewry.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said Hotovely’s comments “combine ignorance and arrogance. This government does not stop dividing the Jewish People in Israel and abroad.”
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuly called them “an insulting and stupid rant.”
“Instead of just criticizing her comments, the prime minister should dismiss Hotovely from dealing with foreign affairs. In any case, no one in America will want to see her face. American Jewry have a great and important part in contributing to Israel’s growth and we have unbreakable family ties with them,” Shmuly stated.
Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations chairman MK Nachman Shai, also of Zionist Union, mused on Twitter: “After Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s rant against US Jewry, how is she still in her role?” In the coalition, MK Yulia Malinovsky of Yisrael Beytenu lamented “the intolerable ease with which some Jews divide and rank the Judaism of other Jews.”
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria expressed appreciation for American Jews who support Israel.
“Tzipi Hotovely says American Jews have a comfortable life, but the choice to identify with Israel in a time that BDS rules on campuses is not a comfortable choice. It is a courageous choice, one of values, which comes from the fact that we’re family,” Azaria tweeted.
Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is working on his political comeback, tweeted in English: “The Dep. Foreign Minister’s words against our brothers and sisters in the US are disgusting and outrageous, and demand an immediate apology.”
The Reform Movement in Israel also called on Netanyahu to fire Hotovely following her remarks, accusing her of abusing her office and deepening the existing crisis with Diaspora Jewry, which has sprung up over the Western Wall and conversion policy.
“It is unthinkable that this is the face of the State of Israel towards world Jewry,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel.
“The majority of the Israeli public and the majority of the Jewish world is fed up with the campaign of attacks, denigration and incitement of senior politicians against Diaspora Jewry.”
Michal Berman, CEO of the Panim, the Israeli-Judaism Network, said "It's sad to find that that the person who fills the role of [deputy] Foreign Minister of Israel, who is supposed to promote the image of the state of Israel in the world, is disparaging the largest and most powerful Jewish community in the world."
"The US Jewish community focuses much of its time, resources and energy for the benefit of Israel," she continued. "And that includes sending the best of their sons to fight here and to serve the country and sometimes even to pay with their lives. If Hotovely does not understand this, she can not fill her role for the good of the State of Israel."