'Shocking Ignorance': U.S. Jewish Leaders Lambaste Israeli Deputy Minister Who Said American Jews Have It Easy

Faced with outcry, top Israeli diplomat Tzipi Hotovely stops short of apologizing, saying 'realities in Israel and U.S. are very different'

Tzipi Hotovely speaks at the Herzliya Conference, in Herzliya, August 6, 2015.
Tzipi Hotovely speaks at the Herzliya Conference, in Herzliya, August 6, 2015. Erez Harodi Studio

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely faced calls for her ouster by leaders of American Jewry in response to her remarks on Israeli television Wednesday, when she said U.S. Jews lead "convenient" lives and don't serve their country.

Responding to the backlash, Hotovely posted a video to her Facebook page – in Hebrew – in which she tried to clarify her position, but stopped short of apologizing.  

Reacting to Hotovely's remarks, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder decried her attack on U.S. Jewry and called for greater Jewish unity. "It is unacceptable for any Israeli official to be disrespectful of the Jewish people living in the Diaspora," he said in a statement.

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“Just as the Jewish Diaspora stands by the Jewish state, the Jewish state must stand by the Jewish Diaspora,” he added.

Union for Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs said Hotovely's comments "reached a new low" in the "litany of Israeli government actions denigrating the rights and importance of Diaspora Jews.

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"If an American politician had made these comments, we would not hesitate to call them out as anti-Semitic," Jacobs said in a statement. "At a minimum they evidence a shocking ignorance."

Jacobs urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dismiss Hotovely immediately.

Retweeting Netanyahu's condemnation of her remarks, the American Jewish Committee called his words "a welcome and important statement."

Hotovely: Reality in Israel and U.S. is different

Faced with uproar, Hotovely took to Facebook and attempted to clarify that she deeply cares for American Jews, and that she did not intend to hurt the feelings of U.S. Jews who immigrated to Israel and chose to volunteer to serve in the Israeli military.

In a video post, headlined "A message to my brothers in the U.S.," she said in Hebrew: "U.S. Jewry is very important to me, that's why I went to the U.S. in order to speak with the young generation there. The connection, the dialogue, as common among siblings in the same family, is the most important thing," she said.

In the video, the top diplomat claimed her words were taken out of context. "In my opinion, what happened over the past day does not reflect the spirit of my words, which embrace U.S. Jewry, which call on it to connect to the State of Israel, which has faith in the dialogue between us and Diaspora Jewry – in particular the splendid U.S. Jewry.

"It is important for me to convey the following message," Hotovely went on. "If any of them was hurt, if any of the lone soldiers in Israel was hurt because he or she thought I was directing my words at them, I was certainly not directing my words at any soldier serving here in the Israel Defense Forces," she added, without mentioning American Jews without connection to the IDF.

"Among U.S. Jewry, there are people who send their sons to fight here in the Israeli army and of course there are people in American history who fought for the U.S. Army.

"The only point I wanted to get across was that the reality of life in Israel and the reality of life in the U.S. are very different realities, and that does not contradict the connection and dialogue that must persist between us and this important Jewry," Hotovely stressed.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), head of the Knesset lobby for U.S-Israel relations, called on Netanyahu to suspend Hotovely from her role as deputy foreign minister, saying Netanyahu's "condemnation and reprimand of his deputy do not suffice."

Shai continued: "U.S. Jews have been here before her and will be here after her. They don't need lessons from her, not on loving Israel and not on who is considered to be a Jew. Mrs. Hotovely should not hand out grades to U.S. Jews regarding their loyalty to Israel." 

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak took to Twitter, calling for Hotovely's dismissal. "Hotovely – arrogant and ignorant. U.S. Jews send their children to fight, some have fought themselves. How dare she preach, when she herself hasn't served," he wrote.