Israeli religious and political figures with close ties to the progressive Jewish community in the United States responded to Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely's comments that American Jews lead “convenient” lives and don't serve their country with calls for her ouster.
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In an interview with i24 News on Wednesday, Hotovely said that American Jews “never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers... They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets,” she said. American Jews don’t understand the “complexity of the region,” she added.
“It is inconceivable that this is the face Israel is presenting to the Jewish world,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel. He urged the prime minister to fire Hotovely immediately.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself weathering a strained relationship with American Jewry, was unusually swift in jumping into the fray to chastise his own deputy and Cabinet member. "Diaspora Jews are dear to us and an inseparable part of our people," he said in a statement, adding that “There is no room for such attacks and these comments do not represent Israel's position.”
While praising Netanyahu for calling Hotovely out, Kariv also noted that her statements weren’t made “in a void,” but rather were “a direct continuation of the offensive behavior of the prime minister toward Diaspora Jewry.”
Nachman Shai, a member of the oppositionist Zionist Union, seconded his call to have her dismissed. “American Jews were here before her and will be here after her,” said Shai, who serves as head of the Knesset caucus that promotes Israel’s relations with the Diaspora. “They don’t need any lessons from her about what is love for Israel and about who is a Jew.”
Hotovely, he added “should not be handing out grades to American Jews about their loyalty to Israel.”
Gideon Saar, a former Likud minister who announced his return to politics some months ago, wrote on Twitter that Hotovely's "words against our brothers and sisters in the U.S. are disgusting and outrageous, and demand an immediate apology."
Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel, said Hotovely’s statements demonstrated “astounding ignorance” about North American Jewry.
“For years, the U.S. army has not checked the religion of its soldiers, and the last time it did,” he said, “they found that Jews were more than proportionately represented – and that does not include the many who come to volunteer on their own in the Israeli army.” Hess thanked Netanyahu for reprimanding her but said “it would be even better if he prohibited her from speaking at all on these issues.”
On social media, Netanyahu’s attempt to rebuke Hatovely were also attacked.
Shalom Lipner, a Brookings fellow and a former advisor to several Israeli prime ministers, including Netanyahu, tweeted: “It’s useful for Netanyahu to have her as a foil. Allows him to play the benefactor of the US Jewish community - most of whom he's alienated - and paint her as the 'real' problem, i.e the one who doesn't understand Jews outside Israel (like he does, of course).”
Ron Kampeas, the Washington Bureau Chief for JTA, tweeted that Hatovely’s comments that Jews did not send their children to fight for their country was “classic anti-Semitic trope.” He and others on Facebook and Twitter noted the fact that Jews do indeed serve in the American military, with some even citing the names of Jewish fatalities of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Facebook, an American veteran named Robert Levinson wrote: "I put my country's uniform on when I was 18 and didn't take it off again until I was 42. How long did Ms. Hotovely spend in her country's uniform?"
A woman named Ellen Rafshoon posted on Facebook: “Jews serve in all branches of the military but more importantly disproportionately represented in public service including diplomacy and intelligence. You don’t have to hold a weapon to serve your country.”
Dana Janine Diamond seethed on Facebook, “What utter turkey bullshit. As if spiritual equality at the Kotel and throughout Israel, as if not allowing Israel to become the puppet of the misogynistic, racist, homophobic, cult-like Rabbinate, has anything to do with rockets. And, what anti-Semitic remarks. Israel is no longer a haven for Jews, clearly.”