Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied his son is dating a non-Jewish Norwegian woman, Channel 10 reported Wednesday. In the first response since news of the purported romance between Yair Netanyahu, 23 and Sandra Leikanger, 25, made waves in Israel, an official in the Prime Minister's Office told Shas leader Aryeh Deri that the two only study together.
The PMO denied reports in Norwegian papers that Netanyahu told his counterpart, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, that there was a romantic relationship between the two. A report in the Norwegian newspaper Dagen shows photographs of the pair posing in different locations in Norway. The two reportedly met while Leikanger was studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
In an interview Monday, Deri lamented the news, telling an ultra-Orthodox radio station, Kol Barama, that if true, Netanyahu and wife Sara would experience "great heartache."
Deri said the criticism was not an attack against the premier, but rather an issue of national concern. "I try not to raise personal criticism, but if, heaven forbid, this is true, it is no longer a personal matter – it is a symbol of the Jewish people."
The Shas leader went on to describe the great efforts being made to prevent assimilation, saying, "I have friends who invest tens of millions, hundreds of millions to fight assimilation throughout the world. If, heaven forbid, this is true, woe is us. I hope it is not true."
Other religious politicians came out against the reported relationship, including hardline Likud MK Moshe Feiglin and other members of Shas.
The Israeli organization Lehava, which says it aims "to prevent assimilation in the Holy Land," urged Netanyahu on its Facebook page "to prevent this relationship," AFP reported.
"Your grandchildren, as you know, will not be Jewish," Lehava director Bentzi Gopshtain warned Netanyahu in the post.
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