Zionist youth group boycotts event with Israeli ambassador over her ‘inflammatory statements’

Noam, which is affiliated to Masorti Judaism, said ‘Hotovely’s past comments on the Palestinians are beyond the pale’


Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on January 11, 2017. / AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Noam, the Zionist youth movement affiliated to Masorti Judaism, has boycotted an event involving Israel’s UK ambassador Tzipi Hotovely over what they claimed was her history of making “racist and inflammatory statements”.

After prolonged discussion with Masorti about the embassy-initiated event, Noam decided to hold an alternative session on Wednesday night featuring Zionist activists.

In a statement, the youth movement said: “[Hotovely] has consistently refused to recognise Palestinian heritage, referring to the Palestinians as ‘thieves of history’ and invited Lehava – a racist organisation denounced by the President of Israel – to speak at the Knesset.

“We are a Zionist youth movement. We believe in the importance of engaging with Israel as it is, with all the joys and challenges which come with that. Despite this, we feel that Hotovely’s past comments on the Palestinians are beyond the pale.

“We are also deeply committed to Masorti Judaism. We do not want to listen to and applaud a woman who has denigrated non-Orthodox Judaism. To reward her with a platform after these hurtful comments is a deep humiliation for our community”.

During the event with Ms Hotovely, Masorti senior rabbi Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg challenged the ambassador on her views, which have been the source of controversy in the wider UK Jewish community.

According to Masorti chief executive Matt Plen, the rabbi “staked out clear positions which differed from the ambassador’s comments in the session and her previously expressed views. In particular, he emphasised that Masorti and Reform Jews did not have full recognition in Israel and that Palestinian and other non-Jewish Israelis continue to suffer from inequality. Rabbi Wittenberg also argued that we must welcome difference and debate, including engaging with human rights organisations such as New Israel Fund, B’tselem and Breaking the Silence”.

When Ms Hotovely insisted that Israel’s non-Jewish minorities were treated equally and that non-Orthodox Jews felt at home in Israel, Rabbi Wittenberg commented: “There are streams of Judaism who don’t feel at home, who feel precluded, who don’t have the same access to government funding, that their conversions and marriages are not respected.” 

Rabbi Wittenberg spoke of a friend, the son of an Imam in a small village near Jerusalem. “He’s very pro-Israel and tells his Muslim friends, this is the country where you’ll find equality… and then he says ‘but I never feel it.’ There’s a very serious journey still to travel and diaspora Jews from all the movements want to help Israel travel it”.

Dr Plen said: “While Ambassador Hotovely’s views clash with some of our deeply held values – articulated most clearly by some of our young people through Noam – I believe engaging with her was the right decision. I’m proud that Noam organised an alternative educational event on issues of racism and democracy in Israel society. The fact that Masorti Judaism can hold on to core values while encompassing diversity and respectfully challenging those we disagree with is surely one of our movement’s greatest strengths”.

In his discussion, Rabbi Wittenberg found common ground with Ms Hotovely on pride in Israel's achievements in Jewish learning and education, on the importance on action to protect the environment and stop climate change, and on the ongoing centrality of Israel and Zionism in Jewish life. 

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