Conservative Movement leader blasts PM’s immigration minister appointee

Conservative Movement leader blasts PM’s immigration minister appointee

Yizhar Hess says nomination of Yariv Levin — a public critic of Reform Judaism — is a demonstration of ‘utter contempt’ for Diaspora Jewry

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The head of the Conservative Movement in Israel on Monday lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to hand the immigration portfolio to Minister Yariv Levin, a vocal critic of liberal Jewish streams.

“There is no appointment more miserable for absorption minister than Yariv Levin,” Yizhar Hess told Army Radio. “He has completely adopted the Haredi narrative and is ignorant of the Jewish people outside of Israel.”

In 2016, Levin called Reform Judaism a “dying world” that has succumbed to assimilation, a statement that Netanyahu condemned at the time.

The comments, made during a cabinet meeting on a proposed expansion to the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall, sparked uproar among both Reform and Conservative leaders, who called on Levin to apologize and walk back the statements. He refused to do so.

Yizhar Hess, executive director and CEO of the Conservative Judaism movement in Israel, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, August 31, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In another set of inflammatory 2016 comments, Levin cited the marriage of Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Hillary and Bill, to a Jewish man as an example of the extent to which American Reform Jews have become assimilated, and said all Reform Jews would disappear in two or three generations.

“Reform Jews in the US are a dying world,” Levin, who is a secular Jew, said of the largest Jewish denomination in America. “Assimilation is taking place on a vast scale. They’re not even tracking this properly in their communities. It’s evidenced by the fact that a man who calls himself a Reform rabbi stands there with a priest and officiates at the wedding of the daughter of Hillary Clinton and no one condemns it and so it gets legitimized.”

Pointing out that roughly half of America’s Jews are affiliated with the Conservative and Reform movements, Hess on Monday asked whether “it is appropriate to place as minister the person who is perhaps the most obvious symbol of their utter contempt (for those movements), apart from the ultra-Orthodox ministers?”

Netanyahu, who inherited the Absorption Ministry from Yisrael Beytenu’s Sofa Landver when her party quit the government in November, opted on Sunday not to appoint Levin as a permanent replacement but only as acting minister, a position that cannot be extended beyond three months.

The temporary appointment only needs the approval of the cabinet, which came in a ministerial telephone vote after Netanyahu’s announcement, and not a vote of confidence in the Knesset.

Netanyahu’s decision likely angered several Likud lawmakers who had been vying for the position. Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who currently serves as deputy foreign minister, had been considered a front-runner to take the role, according to coalition sources. Kulanu MK Michael Oren had also publicly stated his interest in the position, saying party chair Moshe Kahlon had “demanded” he receive it.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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