Israeli lawmaker David Rotem, who heads an influential Knesset committee, said the Reform movement “is not Jewish.”
Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and a member of the ruling coalition from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, said during a committee meeting on Tuesday, “The Reform movement is not Jewish … they are another religion.”
Rotem, who is Orthodox, made the remarks during a discussion on changing Israel’s child adoption law.
Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, called on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to reprimand Rotem.
“An assertion such as this makes it impossible for lawmaker Rotem to continue to chair discussions on sensitive issues such as conversion, who is a Jew and other topics that are associated with religion and state matters, and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora,” Kariv said.
A statement from the Reform movement in Israel pointed out that use of the expression “another religion” was deliberate, since Israel’s Law of Return uses the same term to exclude non-Jews from making aliyah.
By using the term, the statement said, Rotem is saying Reform Jews have no place in Israel.
The Union for Reform Judaism called Rotem’s comments “unacceptable” and urged Edelstein to remove him from his committee chairmanship.
“There is no way that someone who holds these views–and has consistently stated them in public–can be a fair arbiter over laws that impact the very essence of Klal Yisrael,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote in a statement.
The leadership of the Conservative movement — including Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly and Steven Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — in a statement Wednesday lamented “the utter lack of leadership that makes these outrages so frequent and undermines the very aspirations that are the foundations of Judaism and the Jewish state.”
Saying ‘The Jewishness of the Reform Movement is beyond question and in no need of defense,” the statement called on the government of Israel to censure Rotem and remove him from leadership roles.
The Anti-Defamation League called on Rotem to retract his statements and apologize to the Reform movement.
In a letter to Rotem, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the lawmaker’s views are “inappropriate, offensive and unjustified.”
“The suggestion that Jews throughout the world who identify with the Reform movement are somehow not a part of the Jewish people is an unacceptable characterization of a proud, highly engaged and committed group of Jews. Among many US non-Orthodox Jews, rejectionist rhetoric of this kind fosters divisiveness and feelings of alienation towards elements of Israeli society. As someone who has long been engaged in the issue of Jewish identify, we are surprised and saddened that you expressed these views,” Foxman wrote.