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Netanyahu rebukes Israeli diplomat for attack on US Jews

Deputy foreign minister said that US Jews 'are having quite a convenient life, they don't feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to publicly condemn his minister's comments (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday rapped his deputy foreign minister for "offensive" remarks in which she said US Jews were too "comfortable" to understand threats to Israel.

In an interview on Tel Aviv-based i24News TV channel, Tzipi Hotovely of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party was quizzed Wednesday on the growing gulf between Israel and US Jewry, particularly youth.

"Maybe they're too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without a Jewish homeland, without a Jewish state," she said in English, adding that US Jewry "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 or to Iraq," she said.

"Most of them are having quite a convenient life. They don't feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets."

US-educated Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, described his deputy's comments as offensive.

"The Jews of the Diaspora are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people," an English-language government statement quoted him as saying.

"There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel," it added. "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns Tzipi Hotovely's offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community.”

Hotovely later denied there was any ill-feeling between herself and the premier.

"I am not angry at him," she told an interviewer on Israeli public radio.

"There is no argument between me and him, there is no disagreement about the fact that US Jewry is dear to Israel," she said in Hebrew.    

The left-leaning Haaretz newspaper challenged Hotovely on the facts, pointing out that the head of the US Air Force, General David Lee Goldfein, is Jewish, and there are other Jews "in the highest ranks".

"Around 200,000 US Jews live in Israel, with many young people serving in its military," it said.

The paper’s columnist Chemi Shalev wrote that Hotovely has co-opted a traditionally anti-Semitic trope in her comments on US Jews’ military service.

“The only people who use this issue to denigrate American Jews are dedicated anti-Semites and, it seems, the person in charge of Israel’s diplomatic corps and its relations with American Jews,” he said.

The Israeli army and local media frequently air interviews with "lone soldiers" from the United States; young men and women who have left their families at home and come to Israel for the express purpose of volunteering for army service, including combat units.

Divisions between Israel and the US Jewish community have grown lately over Netanyahu's refusal to implement a deal allowing women and men to pray together at Jerusalem's Western Wall.

In Israel, Jewish religious observance is governed by Orthodox practice, while in the United States the more flexible reform and Conservative streams are prevalent.

Netanyahu's government is also sensitive to the demands of ultra-Orthodox political parties which sit in his coalition and provide vital support for its slender parliamentary majority.

Under pressure from them, Netanyahu in June froze indefinitely a previous commitment to allow egalitarian prayer at the wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

In accordance with strict Orthodox tradition, there are currently separate prayer sections for women and men at the wall, one of the last remnants of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD.