Netanyahu Rebukes Deputy After She Criticized U.S. Jews for Not 'Fighting for Their Country'

'There is no room for such attacks and these comments do not represent Israel's position,' says Prime Minister Netanyahu

Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, 2015
Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, 2015 Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned disparaging comments made by Israel's deputy foreign minister against U.S. Jews, saying that "Diaspora Jews are dear to us and an inseparable part of our people."

"There is no room for such attacks and these comments do not represent Israel's position," Netanyahu said about Tzipi Hotevely's criticism, who serves as his deputy in his capacity as foreign minister.

Hotovely attacked U.S. Jewry in an interview with i24 News on Wednesday, blaming the growing rift between the American Jewish community and Israel on the former's "convenient lives," as well as their not knowing "how it feels to be attacked by rockets." She also said that American Jews were using the Western Wall crisis for political gain.

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Hotovely also responded to the outcry her interview caused in an attempt to step back the comments, saying on Thursday she was only trying to talk about complexity of life in Israel under the threat of constant terror. She said that the contribution of U.S. Jews to Israel was large, but noted that its ties to Israel could not be conditioned on its government's policies.

Hotovely also claimed that only a small part of her interview was sent out to the media, though a full one was online, and she added that the complete interview shows she spoke at length about the importance of the ties between Israel and U.S. Jewry.

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In the interview, Hotovely ripped into U.S. Jews over the Western Wall, saying they don't really visit the holy site currently at the center of a fierce debate between Israel and world Jewry over the creation of a non-Orthodox prayer space.

"The reason it's empty, if you ask me, it's not that they don't like the [current] arrangement. The reason it's empty is because most of the time those people are not even interested [in going] to the Kotel.

"And the Israeli government really was doing a lot to make sure that they can have egalitarian prayer, women can go together with their families, men can go together with their daughters, everything is set up, but they are not willing to get that, because if you're asking me this is a political matter, and they want to get recognition through the Kotel issue and they're making a religious holy place something for political dispute."

Hotovely also referred to what she termed "the liberal dictatorship" in academic spaces that refuses to hear other opinions. She further criticized Princeton University Hillel, which recently disinvited her from speaking amid protests from Jewish students, saying that she was poorly treated by the Jewish campus organization.

When asked about why Jewish Americans may not feel connected to Israel, the deputy minister said that perhaps they are "too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without a Jewish state." 

“The other issue is not understanding the complexity of the region,” she said. “People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”

The U.S. military stopped recording the religion of recruits decades ago, but until then Jews served in slightly greater proportion than their percentage in the general population. There continues to be a Jewish presence in the military, including in the highest ranks as well as at military academies. A number of Jewish ex-servicemen have run for public office in recent years.

Estimates say that around 200,000 U.S. Jews live in Israel, with many young people serving in its military.