Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during an appearance at a Likud faction meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected comments made by a minister in his coalition disparaging Reform Jews as not actullay being real Jews.
Earlier on Tuesday, Religious Services Minister David Azoulai (Shas) said in an interview with Army Radio that only people who follow Jewish law can be described as Jewish and described non-Orthodox streams as “people who try and falsify” the Jewish religion.
“Any Jew who observes the Torah and commandments is for us a Jew...A Reform Jew, from the moment he does not follow Jewish law I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew,” said the minister.
Rabbi Gilad Karib responds to inflammatory about reform Jews
In response, Netanyahu's office stated that the prime minister renounces "the hurtful remarks about Reform Judaism, which do not reflect the position of the Government."
Netanyahu said that he had spoken to Azoulai "to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as Minister of Religious Affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens.”
The head of the Reform movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv welcomed Netanyahu’s “swift” response” and his remarks on Azoulai’s statement, saying that they were “important and necessary.”
In light of similar comments made in the past by Azoulai and others, as well as the ongoing dissatisfaction of the non-Orthodox movements with their legal status in Israel, Kariv called on the prime minister to establish an “ongoing strategic dialogue” with Reform and Masorti movements.
“The prime minister and the government need to take tangible steps to build confidence with the non-Orthodox movements both in Israel and in the Diaspora to demonstrate that Israel really is the state of Jews all around the world.”
Kariv added that the Israeli public was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the religious establishment and the haredi political parties and that Azoulai’s comments about Reform Jews would lead to greater public support for “full equality for all Jewish denominations in Israel.”
Yizhar Hess, the director of the Masorti (Conservative) called on the prime minister to simply fire Azoulai.
“The prime minister was satisfied with condemning these remarks, and this is the second time in two weeks,” said Hess. “Hasn’t the time come to fire Minister Azoulai and to relieve all of us from the punishment that he is? It’s unbelievable that a minister in Israel de-legitimises other Jews because of their Judaism.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, also lauded Netanyahu for his "unequivocal rejection" of Azoulai’s "offensive comments about Reform Judaism."
"It would be one thing if Minister Azoulai’s ignorant and myopic views of Reform Judaism were nothing more than this his own semi-coherent ramblings," he said. "The real danger is that he now sits at the Cabinet Table, and is in a position to turn those views into governmental policy."