Hotovely apologizes for saying US Jews don’t send children to fight

Apology follows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threat to fire her and withering criticism from both Israel and the US.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely pictured at Columbia University. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely pictured at Columbia University.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Amid numerous calls from Israeli politicians and US Jewish leaders for her dismissal, and after a threat by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do just that, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely apologized Thursday evening for comments she had made that were deemed disparaging of American Jewry.
“American Jewry is very important to me,” she said in a filmed statement. “The connection, the dialogue like that between siblings in a family, is the most important thing.
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 kicked up a storm after saying in an interview with i24 on Wednesday that American Jews do not understand the reality of life in Israel because they do not send their children to the military or live under the threat of missile fire.
Hotovely: US Jews lead ‘convenient’ lives, don’t serve in the military (i24 News)
Asked in the television interview to address the “abyss” in Israel’s ties with US Jewry and whether she understands why many US Jews no longer feel connected to Israel, Hotovely said: “I can’t understand that.
Maybe they are too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without the Jewish homeland.”
She continued: “But there is another issue, and I think it is not understanding the complexity of the region. 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, going to Iraq – most of them are having quite convenient lives – they don’t feel how it feels like to be attacked by rockets. And I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”
Hotovely also addressed the issue of the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, saying that one already exists – Ezrat Yisrael – but it stands empty “because most of the time those people are not even interested in going to the Kotel.”
She said the pluralistic movements were using the Western Wall as a “political matter” to gain legitimacy for their movements, and that they are “making a religious holy place something for political dispute.”
Netanyahu, under fire himself from some Diaspora leaders for reneging on an agreement due to haredi political pressure that would have created a larger, formal egalitarian space at the Western Wall, quickly and publicly admonished Hotovely.
In a rare move, his office issued a sharp statement publicly upbraiding her, saying he “condemns” her “offensive” remarks regarding the American Jewish community. “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.”
Later in the day, his office let it be known that he was considering firing her.
Responding, Hotovely said, “It is important to me to pass on the following message: If anybody was hurt, if any lone soldiers in Israel were hurt because they thought I was referring to them, I certainly did not direct these things to any soldier serving here in the IDF. There are people among American Jews who send their sons to fight here in the IDF, and certainly in American history there are people [Jews] who fought in the US Army.”
Hotovely said the point she was trying to make was that “the realities of life in Israel and in the US are very different.”
Netanyahu met with Hotovely and told her not to repeat the tenor of her remarks. In a Channel 12 interview, Hotovely said the prime minister’s criticism of her comments was in order and that he told her American Jewry was important for him and that it was equally important to him that she respect the community, to which she said: “I truly do.”
President Reuven Rivlin addressed the issue during a speech at a memorial service at Sde Boker marking 44 years to the death of David Ben-Gurion.
Referring to an agreement Ben-Gurion reached with the US Jewish community whereby neither community would interfere in the political decisions of the other and that Israel represented only its citizens, Rivlin said: “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,” he said. “We must embark on a new path – no longer a relationship of charity, but a shared commitment to justice, to Jewish and human mutual responsibility. No longer with the silencing of mutual criticism, but with courageous and sincere openness.”
Coalition and opposition MKs slammed Hotovely’s comments, with some in the opposition calling for her ouster.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said Hotovely’s remarks were “miserable” and mocked her for doing civilian service rather than serving in the IDF. She spent a year of that service in Atlanta.
“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 has a great and important part in contributing to Israel’s growth and we have unbreakable family ties with them,” Shmuly stated.
Inside the coalition, MK Yulia Malinovski of Yisrael Beytenu lamented “the intolerable ease with which some Jews divide and rank the Judaism of other Jews.”
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, meanwhile, 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 called on Netanyahu to fire Hotovely following her remarks, accusing her of abusing her office and deepening the existing crisis with Diaspora Jewry that 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.
Lahav Harkov and Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.