Following a public outcry among ultra-Orthodox elements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday denied that his son Yair is dating a non-Jewish Norwegian woman, Channel 10 news reported.
During a meeting between an official from the Prime Minister’s Office and Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri, the latter was told that 23-year-old Yair Netanyahu and 25-year-old Sandra Leikanger only study together and were not romantically involved, the report said. The PMO official also denied that the prime minister had told Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg that the two were a couple.
The relationship was first reported by Norwegian daily Dagen, which claimed that Netanyahu had told Solberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that his son traveled with Leikanger in Norway over the summer, and that the two had been dating for months.
The report triggered a small public storm, with several religious groups and figures criticizing the relationship as one that promotes intermarriage and assimilation.
Israeli organization Lehava, whose stated goal is to prevent assimilation, called on Netanyahu to prevent the relationship. Deri himself said “If God forbid it’s true, then woe to us.” Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi, brother of Sara Netanyahu, went so far as to say Yair was “spitting on the grave of his grandfather and grandmother.”
Some advised a more moderate response.
Noah Slepkov, an associate fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, said the criticism of Netanyahu’s son was counterproductive in a country that increasingly finds itself isolated. “We’re insecure,” he said. “People need to realize that having a few percent of our people intermarrying is not going to hurt this.”
Marissa Newman and news agencies contributed to this report.