Netanyahu Denounces Israeli Tourism Minister's Attack on U.S. Reform Jews

'Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people,' the prime minister says after U.S. rabbis accused Yariv Levin of bias.

Netanyahu and Levin during a Likud faction meeting, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced on Wednesday remarks by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, in which he attacked the American Jewish Reform movement and accused its members of assimilation. Netanyahu's statement was issued after U.S. Reform rabbis called on all Israeli and American Jews to stand against the minister's comments.

"I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect."

During Sunday's cabinet meeting on a compromise regarding the creation of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, Levin said 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 United States are a waning world," Levin said during the meeting. "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.

In his statement, Netanyahu mentioned the approval of the new prayer section, hailing it as an "historic compromise that ensures that the Western Wall will continue to be a source of unity and inspiration for the entire Jewish people."

"This is the government’s policy. This is my policy," the prime minister added.

The main organization of Reform rabbis in the United States accused Levin of bias against their movement. In a statement published earlier on Wednesday, the Central Conference of American Rabbis said Levin has broken his obligation as a cabinet minister to support the religious practices of all Israelis, and revealed a partiality against a religious movement that "includes over a million and a half people." 

In its statement, the Central Conference of American Rabbis rebuffed Levin's criticism, citing the organization's commitment to Israel and its upcoming annual convention as a demonstration that his remarks "could not be further from the truth."