Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong condemnation of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely’s comments about American Jews, like his threat to fire her, is tainted by hypocrisy. “Her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel,” he said. But Hotovely’s remarks faithfully reflect the Netanyahu government’s stance, and that’s precisely why they’re such a problem.
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This stance suffers from a split personality. With all its might, the government sponsors legislation that prioritizes the state’s Jewish character over its democratic one. But at the same time, it alienates Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States by passing legislation against the non-Orthodox movements and freezing the agreement on prayer arrangements at the Western Wall, on the pretext that these Jews are “outside the democratic game.”
When Netanyahu and his government are uncomfortable with democracy, they justify it on the grounds that they’re Jews first and foremost. But when they aren’t comfortable with certain groups of Jews, they suddenly remember that they’re democrats first and foremost.
Most of the world’s Jews are liberal, and it’s completely legitimate for non-Orthodox Jews from outside Israel to demand that the Israeli government authorize establishment of an egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall. It’s hard to fathom that Israel is restricting the freedom of religion of millions of believing Jews just because they aren’t citizens of Israel (and therefore most haven’t served in the military). On this issue, Jews who are Israeli citizens have no priority over Jews who aren’t Israeli citizens.
Just like Netanyahu, who capitulated to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties and froze the Western Wall agreement, Hotovely undermined the freedom of religion of millions of Jews in the name of democracy. In an interview with i24 News, Hotovely said Israel is the home of all Jews, from every Jewish movement, and “everyone is welcome to come here to influence Israeli politics.” But that’s true only regarding Israel’s affairs, not freedom of worship for American Jews.
Because the dispute with American Jewry goes way beyond the Western Wall agreement, and because the right’s policies have opened a vast ideological gulf between liberal American Jews and Israel, Hotovely’s statements trod a path that’s already well trodden by the right in general and Hotovely in particular – the path of smearing Israelis and Diaspora Jews who criticize the occupation or Israel’s retreat from liberal values.
Thus Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff is a “traitor,” and American Jews who fight the occupation merit digs that emit a whiff of anti-Semitism (“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.”)
Hotovely loyally represents the Netanyahu government. Her dismissal would be pure hypocrisy unless the prime minister resigned along with her.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel