Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett came to the defense of his spokeswoman Thursday after a leading rabbi left the national religious party in protest over Bennett’s employment of the aide, who is a lesbian.
“Anyone who thinks I need to discriminate against a person because of his sexual orientation, gender or skin color will encounter a total refusal from me,” tweeted Bennett, who is also education minister.
“Beloved is man — every man — who was created in God’s image,” he added, quoting the Jewish text Pirkei Avot.
Bennett’s tweet came after leading national-religious Rabbi Yisrael Rosen quit the party’s presidium on Wednesday in protest of Bennett’s employment of spokeswoman Brit Galor Perets.
Rosen said in a letter announcing his resignation that while “I have nothing against her or [homosexuals],” he could no longer remain in a party “that pretends to represent religious Zionism.”
The rabbi’s resignation came a month after the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Perets is raising two children with her partner. The report came amid government efforts to ban gay adoption, which have since been temporarily put off.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who is currently trying to merge his National Union faction with the rest of the Jewish Home, also criticized Bennett and said the party should focus on its national religious base rather than trying to expand its ranks.
“He won’t find votes among the hipsters in Tel Aviv and same-sex couples,” he told a national religious weekly in an interview.
Since becoming party leader in 2012, Bennett has sought to expand the party’s ranks beyond its national religious base, reaching out to younger right-wing voters and emphasizing his pre-political career as CEO of a high-tech company.
While Bennett’s efforts have been largely successful, with the party jumping to 12 seats from three following the 2013 Knesset elections, his attempts to enlist non-religious figures to Jewish Home have drawn criticism and the party lost four seats in the 2015 elections.
Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, is currently the party’s only secular member of Knesset.