Reform Jews in Israel Furious Over Attack by Army Radio Host

Talk show host Irit Linur said Reform Jews don’t belong in Israel and compared them to the ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor cult. Israel’s liberal Jewish movements are calling on her to apologize or be dismissed

Irit Linur
Army Radio host Irit Linur. Israel's non-orthodox movements are demanding an apology Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Angry Israeli Reform Jews are demanding an apology from a well-known talk show host who declared on-air that the Reform movement has no place in Israel, equating it with the extremist Jewish cult Lev Tahor.

A letter sent to Defense Minister Benny Gantz by 150 Israel Defense Forces reserve officers who are members of Reform congregations said it was “scandalous” that the Army Radio airwaves had been used to deliver messages by host and writer Irit Linur that “harm” and “incite.”

Their letter said that if Linur refuses to apologize, they demand her “immediate dismissal.”

A similar letter was sent to Gantz, as well as IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Army Radio acting commander Galit Altstein, by members of the Israeli Reform youth movement, its pre-army program and other educational arms. They said they were “horrified” by Linur’s words, that she had “crossed a red line,” and that she should apologize or be fired.

A group of other religious groups, including the Israeli Conservative movement, also wrote to the military leaders and demanded that Linur, along with her co-host Kobi Arieli, “take responsibility for and apologize on-air for their reckless incitement, and it must be made clear to them that these kind of messages won’t be heard on the public airwaves again.”

Linur, who co-hosts Army Radio’s daily midday show “The Last Word,” is a right-wing, secular Israeli who has long been hostile to non-Orthodox movements – in particular, to the efforts of the feminist organization Women of the Wall, which held its latest monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer service at the Western Wall last Wednesday.

Members of the Lev Tahor cult at Ben Gurion Airport. Credit: Nir Keidar

Linur told listeners last week that “the Reform movement is foreign and has failed to connect with the masses here, but has managed to receive political representation through MK Gilad Kariv [a Reform rabbi who was elected to the Labor Party slate last year], who joined them at the Kotel. They read from the Torah, seeking out violent confrontation.”

Disparaging the non-Orthodox movements’ efforts to revive the frozen 2016 deal for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, she characterized the campaign as “an effort to grant equal status to an esoteric religious fringe movement that is unimportant, nonexistent, unpopular and unaccepted.”

Addressing the movement directly, she stated: “You’ve lost. This is a democracy and you weren’t accepted here. Go away – go, go, go. Put up a wall somewhere else because, according to the Reform movement, there’s no holiness in this place anyway. You’ve failed here. … Things are going well for you in the United States, so go there. Your place isn’t here. There’s no reason for you to be here. You don’t belong, you only ruin things.”

Her message echoed a Knesset speech delivered by ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Yaakov Litzman in December, who said of Kariv: “You must go to America. Leave us alone here. We must pass a law that this Reformer must return to America and stop destroying religion here – and stop engaging in violations of the law, which is what he is doing at the Western Wall.”

Linur went on to compare Reform Judaism to the extreme ultra-Orthodox cult Lev Tahor, which has fled a long list of countries – most recently Bosnia – as authorities have intervened to investigate illegal practices. These include physical abuse and the forced marriage of minors as young as 12 and 13. Two of the cult’s leaders were convicted in the United States last November of child sexual exploitation and kidnapping.

“Just like Lev Tahor is unacceptable to most of the world, the Reform movement doesn't fit in Israel,” Linur said. “There are cults that shouldn’t exist in every country.”

Kariv, who served as the movement’s executive director in Israel before becoming a lawmaker last March, responded by issuing a sharp statement. He said he was “unsurprised” that such words came from the “hateful” Linur, who has “taken advantage of her platform for years” to make “ignorant, shallow and inaccurate” attacks on Reform Judaism.

He was surprised, however, by the fact she was given a platform for such views on a publicly funded station operated by the IDF.

“At any given moment, hundreds of members in Reform Jewish communities are serving in the IDF, thousands of soldiers are graduates of our educational institutions, tens of thousands of them have celebrated their bar and bat mitzvah in our communities,” Kariv said. “Why does this station offer a platform to someone calling on them to leave the country because they have no place here and depict them as members of a violent cult?!? What does that message convey to rabbis and members of Reform communities who have lost family members” in the military, adding that “unfortunately, there are many.”

MK Gilad Karin in the Knesset last June.Credit: Knesset Spokesperson

Kariv also said that while he supports freedom of speech, public broadcasters must strive to be ethical and fair. Linur’s “ugly hatred” is no longer her responsibility, he said, but that of her superiors.

Addressing Army Radio commander Altstein, he wrote: “Your response to this hatred will reflect where you plan to lead the important public broadcasting station entrusted to you. We look forward to learning what your decisions are and the steps you plan to take.”

Army Radio told Haaretz in response: "Acting Army Radio commander and editor-in-chief Galit Altstein has issued guidelines stating that all Army Radio personnel – both journalists and hosts – should refrain from expressing themselves using defamatory, degrading, disparaging or contemptuous language, or use speech that delegitimizes others and is not based in fact. These guidelines also apply to programming that engages in opinion and punditry.

"Beyond this, Army Radio will not engage in dialogue with its employees through the media."

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