Quoting Medieval Talmudic Scholar, Deputy FM Tells Israeli Diplomats: This Is Our Land

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MK Tzipi Hotovely. Credit: Michal Fattal

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) told ministry employees on Thursday that Israeli diplomats around the world need to begin acting in their contacts with foreign governments according to the principle of “being right and not just smart.”

For many years, Hotovely said, Israeli diplomacy has been based on an effort to be smarter in dealing with the world than being right. “We sought to present arguments that would play well diplomatically,” she said, “but currently it’s important to be right. We need to get back to the basic truth of our right to this land.”

Hotovely quoted from an article by the late right-wing figure Uri Elitzur, who made the argument that Israel had been speaking since 1967 about its security interests and not about the justice of its approach and as a result, it had not convinced the world that the territories that it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War needed to remain under Israeli control.

“It’s important to say [that] this land is ours. All of it is ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that,” she said.

The world understands Israel’s security needs, she said, but arguments relating to morality and justice will always prevail over any security argument. In an effort to demonstrate her point, she gave the large group of diplomats who crowded into the Foreign Ministry auditorium the equivalent of a Torah commentary, speaking about the interpretation by the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi of the story in Genesis about the creation of the world.

“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us,” she quoted from the commentary. She also quoted from Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi as saying. “If the Jews are convinced of the justice of their path vis-a-vis the world, they will already manage.”

Hotovely also commented on the decline in the standing of the Foreign Ministry and the transfer of some of its authority to other cabinet ministers. “The most important challenge of all is to restore its important position to this ministry,” she said. “Israel’s foreign service has undergone privatization. We need to restore the centrality of the ministry, and it is my intention to raise [these] things with the prime minister.”

Israeli diplomats who were present at Hotovely’s speech noted that her remarks raised eyebrows among many in the audience. “People were in shock,” said one diplomat. “It’s the first time they have asked us to use a Tora commentary for purposes of public diplomacy around the world.”

Following her speech, Hotovely told journalists that despite her own personal political views, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he is committed to a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, and she would act as a spokesperson for that policy.

Referring to the cabinet minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, Hotovely added: “But I suggest talking to Silvan Shalom, because he is responsible for the Palestinian issue, and it’s worth asking what he thinks.”

Hotovely's stances may put her on a collision course with the international community: A hardliner with regards to the Palestinians, Hotovely opposes the two-state solution and is in favor of annexing the West Bank (which she terms Judea and Samaria, using the biblical names for the region).

Hotovely believes that after annexation, Israel could initiate a gradual process of granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians.

The 36-year-old Hotovely is a relative unknown to the international media, but is a household name in Israel, as both a prominent female member of the mostly male Likud party and as one of Likud's most vocal supporters of the settlements.

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