DEPUTY TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) campaigns atop Mount Kabir near the Eilon Moreh settlement.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The ongoing crisis in relations between Israel and American Jewry suddenly escalated last week into a Theater-of-the-Absurd performance starring Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. In a misguided television interview, Hotovely claimed that American Jews have “quite convenient lives” compared to those of Israelis, and that they don’t understand the realities that Israelis face because most of them don’t serve in the military.
Hotovely’s unfortunate remarks aroused immediate outrage and widespread calls for her dismissal, for she is the senior representative of Israel’s so-called public diplomacy in the absence of a foreign minister. Her job description is actually deputy to none.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately demanded an apology, under threat of dismissal, her attempt to repair the damage only served to compound it. Hotovely displayed a dismal lack of knowledge about American Jews’ contribution to Israel’s defense, from the volunteers who were crucial to the country’s surviving its War of Independence to the thousands of lone soldiers – men and women – who today volunteer for combat roles in the IDF thousands of miles away from their families “living too comfortable lives.”
Although she is correct in her assertion that most American Jews do not serve in the US military, she is apparently unaware that the chief of staff of the US Air Force is Gen. David Lee Goldfein. This is not to mention the organized Jewish presence at US military academies or the number of Jewish ex-servicemen who have run for public office in recent years based on their military record.
As the Post’s
Herb Keinon pointed out in Friday’s paper, Hotovely was trying to articulate a point in a very inarticulate manner – that American Jews cannot fully understand the Israeli psyche or the reality here because they don’t experience sending their kids to the army and the daily stress that entails, or what it’s like to live under the constant threat of terrorism.
Amid a public outcry by Israeli politicians and US Jewish leaders for her dismissal, and after a threat by Netanyahu to do just that, Hotovely issued a lukewarm apology on Thursday for her comments.
“American Jewry is very important to me,” she said in a filmed statement. “It is permissible to criticize, permissible to express pain, but it is important to remember that there is only one state for the Jewish people and that is Israel, and it has a commitment to all the Jews of the world.”
Hotovely also volunteered her understanding of the conflict over pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall, which she accused American Jews of fomenting for political reasons.
She supported Netanyahu’s revoking the agreement on an egalitarian prayer space by insisting that one already exists, but insisted that it stands virtually empty “because most of the time those people are not even interested in going to the Kotel.”
Netanyahu’s office issued a rare statement publicly upbraiding Hotovely for her “offensive” remarks. “The Jews of the Diaspora are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people. There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel.” The statement made no reference to Netanyahu’s reneging on the deal for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall that, in fact, reflects the true position of Israel’s coalition government.
Among the many politicians who demanded Hotovely’s immediate distancing from foreign policy, Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said, “She expresses the government’s decision to sacrifice relations with US Jewry for petty politics.” Left unsaid was the implication that Netanyahu actually welcomed Hotovely’s faux pas as a distraction from the public focus on his decision during the summer to cancel the Kotel deal.
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.”
President Reuven Rivlin voiced a call for reconciliation at a memorial for David Ben-Gurion, saying, “It is time for a renewed alliance, for a common language, between Israel and the Diaspora before we are too late. The [US Jewish] community longs for a connection with Israel, but wants a relationship between equals – not of philanthropy on the one hand and blind admiration on the other.”
With statements like Hotovely’s, Israel is not sending a message of equality to Diaspora Jews. If it wants to do that, condemning Hotovely will not be enough.
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