After Offensive Remark, Reform Jews Demand Ouster of Israel's New Religious Affairs Minister

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Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (left) and former Kadima MK Akram Hasson, February 18, 2015.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Leaders of Reform Jewry in Israel are demanding the ouster of the country’s newly installed minister of religious affairs over his offensive remarks about their movement. 

David Azoulay, a member of the Orthodox Mizrahi Shas party, was quoted today (Wednesday) in the Hebrew-language daily Israel Hayom calling the Reform movement “a disaster for the nation of Israel.”

“Millions of Reform Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora have had it with the ugly lashings out of ultra-Orthodox politicians,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, responding to Azoulay’s remarks. “If Minister Azoulay cannot function as minister for all the citizens of Israel, then he should resign.”

Reform Jewry representatives also dispatched an urgent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday requesting that he publicly distance himself from Azoulay’s remarks. 

The fact that the offensive remark was made by the minister in charge of providing religious services to all citizens of Israel, they wrote in their letter to Netanyahu, “casts a heavy shadow over his ability to fill this position in a way that is consistent with the basic democratic values of the State of Israel and its role as the nation state of the Jewish people in also its different communities and streams.”

In their letter to Netanyahu, the Reform movement leaders called on the prime minister to “declare a government policy that respects all the streams of Judaism in Israel and abroad.”

Azoulay reportedly made his remarks in a meeting held with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked about the new government’s position on Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group that meets once a month at the Western Wall. According to the report, Azoulay referred to the prayer group members as “provocateurs” for wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries at the Jewish holy site, in defiance of Orthodox customs.

In response, Women of the Wall issued the following statement:  "We expect Ayelet Shaked, like her predecessor, to announce unequivocally that as a woman and a justice minister, she will not sign discriminatory regulations, and will not be a part of exclusion of women from the Western Wall or from any other place. The court has already ruled that these regulations are discriminatory and illegal.”

Negotiations between the previous government and leaders of the non-Orthodox movements over changes in prayers regulations at the Western Wall were suspended after new elections were announced. 

Women of the Wall had agreed in principle to move to a new egalitarian section of the Kotel provided that a list of their demands was met.

Azoulay, who has served in the Knesset since 1996, replaced Naftali Bennett, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, the national religious party, as religious affairs minister.

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