Israeli Tourism Minister Blasts U.S. Reform Jews, Says Chelsea Clinton's Wedding Shows Extent of Assimilation

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In this photo provided by Genevieve de Manio Photography, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky are seen during their wedding, Saturday, July 31, 2010 in Rhinebeck, N.Y.Credit: AP Photo/Genevieve de Manio

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin sharply attacked the American Jewish Reform movement during Sunday's government hearing on the compromise regarding a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall, saying that Chelsea Clinton's wedding to her Jewish partner, officiated by a Reform rabbi and a priest, shows the extent of assimilation among Reform Jews in the United States.

"The Reform Jews in the U.S. are a waning world," Levin said during the meeting, targeting the largest religious movement among U.S. Jews, estimated at over a million and a half people. "The assimilation there is of enormous extent. They don't even properly track [the assimilation] inside their communities. The evidence is that a man who calls himself a reform rabbi is standing there with a priest and weds Hillary Clinton's daughter, and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it."  

Levin said that with this reality among members of the Reform movement in the United States, the controversy over non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall will become irrelevant within two or three generations because, he claimed, all of the Reform Jews will have assimilated.

Ultimately, however, Levin supported the compromise plan for the non-Orthodox prayer plaza at the Western Wall, explaining that he was concerned that the High Court of Justice would issue a ruling on the matter that would provide even more favorable terms to the Reform movement, and therefore he saw the plan as the better of two bad alternatives.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Though the cabinet ultimately passed the compromise, the debate included a highly contentious confrontation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin that descended into a shouting match that could be heard outside of the cabinet room. Elkin sought to change one of the provisions of the cabinet resolution, saying otherwise he would vote aginst it. In response, the prime minister berated him and angrily declared that this was the cabinet resolution and it would not be amended.

"In the army, I learned that there are those who storm ahead and those who hide back," Netanyahu told Elkin, hinting that the immigration minister was looking for an excuse to oppose the resolution. "When I was a commander, we saw everyone from up on the hill, those who stormed ahead and those who hid back."

For his part, however, Elkin did not hold his tongue, telling the prime minister that he was not hiding from anything and as evidence, he pointed at the empty seats of several ministers who have preferred to absent themselves from part of the cabinet meeting. "I'm allowed to express my position. We are in a democratic country," Elkin replied.