Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua has expressed his "deepest apologies" over comments he made at the recent American Jewish Committee's (AJC) centennial symposium in the U.S., in which he asserted that only Israel, and not Judaism, could ensure the survival of the Jewish people.

The remarks by Yehoshua, who said only those living in Israel and taking part in the daily decisions of the Jewish state had a siginificant Jewish identity, have sparked a furious debate over the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

"Reverberations from the first evening of the conference have made me realize, to my distress, that a not-insignificant portion of the audience was offended by the tone of my remarks, as well as by part of their content," he writes in a letter to delegates to the AJC symposium.

But Yehoshua insists that there is nothing new in his remarks: "I wish, therefore, to express to them my deepest apologies," he writes. "Everything I said about the partial nature of Jewish life in the Diaspora as opposed to the all-inclusive nature of Jewish life in Israel has been said by me over the course of many years in the past, both in print and in addressing numerous Diaspora Jews.

"Never before did this lead to such an angry reaction as it did this time. Presumably, there was something in my tone and imprecise formulation that insulted part of the audience. I say "part," because there were also those who came up afterwards to thank me - which does not, of course, compensate for the feelings of the others.

Yehoshua says that his use of the term "plug-and-play" Judaism, which offended people in the audience, was not meant to imply that they related to their Judaism as nothing more than "a game," but was simply taken from a philanthropy conference in Denver several months ago, titled "Plug-and-play Judaism."

"The debate between us is a basic one that goes to the root of things. But we are one people, and I have never ceased to stress this cardinal principal. Nor was there anything in what I said at the conference that called it into question. Once again, permit me to apologize to anyone whose feelings I have hurt."