Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister has been forced to apologise after suggesting that US Jews don’t understand Israel because they “never send their children to fight for their country”, and have “quite convenient lives”.
Tzipi Hotovely, an MK (Member of Knesset) for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, made the comments on Israeli television last week while discussing the decision of the Hillel student group at Princeton University to cancel a talk she was due to give earlier this month. Ms Hotovely did speak on campus, however, after the University’s Chabad house invited her to give her talk their instead.
When asked why there seems to be a growing disillusionment with Israel, as part of her answer the Israeli politician suggested that US Jews did not have an “understanding [of] the complexity of the region. People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, going to Iraq – most of them are having quite convenient lives – they don’t feel how it feels like to be attacked by rockets. And I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”
Widespread criticism of Ms Hotovely’s comments led to Mr Netanyahu releasing a statement condemning her remarks, in which he said that
“Diaspora Jews are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people
“There is no room for such an attack, and its words do not reflect the position of the State of Israel."
However, Ms Hotovely was strongly condemned by Israeli politicians from other parties. Avi Gabbay, the Chairman of the Zionist Union coalition, said that “Netanyahu already condemned her statements, but don’t be confused, she expresses the government’s decision to sacrifice relations with US Jewry for petty politics.
“We will return to power and fix what this government decided to destroy, including the critical alliance with US Jewry.”
Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, said that her comments “combine ignorance and arrogance. This government does not stop dividing the Jewish People in Israel and abroad.”
Criticism of the Deputy Foreign Minister was not limited to Israel, with American Jewish leaders also strongly criticising her statement.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said it was “unacceptable for any Israeli official to be disrespectful of the Jewish people living in the Diaspora.
“Just as the Jewish Diaspora stands by the Jewish state, the Jewish state must stand by the Jewish Diaspora.”
Rick Jacobs, president of America’s Union for Reform Judaism, went even further, recommending that Ms Hotovely be fired from her ministerial post and saying that “If an American politician had made these comments, we would not hesitate to call them out as antisemitic”.
Ms Hotovely subsequently released a statement, attempting to clarify her remarks.
"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”, she said.
"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."
However, Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel and the joint most highly decorated soldier in Israeli history, called for her to be fired, tweeting that her comments were “arrogant and ignorant. US Jews send their children to fight, some have fought themselves. How dare she preach, when she herself hasn't served?”
Ms Hotovely did two years of Sherut Leumi, an alternative form of national service to military service available to religious women, as a tour guide in Beit HaRav Kook museum in Jerusalem and as a Jewish Agency representative in Atlanta.