Chikli 'does not speak for the Diaspora'

European, Australian Jewish student leaders pan Israel’s ‘extremist’ diaspora affairs minister

Citing Amichai Chikli’s past criticism of Reform Jews and pride parades, students say they are ‘turning their backs’ on him

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Amichai Chikli, minister of Diaspora affairs and social equality, arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Amichai Chikli, minister of Diaspora affairs and social equality, arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

European and Australian Jewish student leaders on Wednesday condemned Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli ahead of his scheduled speech at an event organized by the American Jewish Committee in Tel Aviv.

“We cannot normalize extremist views,” the student leaders said in a statement, highlighting disparaging remarks Chikli has made about Reform Jews and pride parades.

“At a time when Jews in the Diaspora face rising antisemitism, it is unconscionable for anyone who professes to be a Jewish leader to incite hatred towards other Jews,” the students wrote.

The letter was penned by Avital Grinberg, president of the European Union of Jewish Students; Joel Rosen, president of the Union of Jewish Students in the UK and Ireland; and Alissa Foster, president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students.

The statement said Chikli has “denigrated Reform Jews,” referencing an interview the minister gave last year in which he said members of the denomination “are going back to their roots in Germany of anti-Zionism and anti-nationalism.” In subsequent interviews, Chikli has also said that he has “a lot of appreciation for Reform Jews” and that “We can’t dismiss their opinion just because it differs from ours.”

The European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based Jewish advocacy group, criticized the European Union of Jewish Students for its “reckless and irresponsible” statement, as described by the Association, which is headed by Menachem Margolin, an Orthodox rabbi.

“European Jewry should not interfere with Israeli politics,” Alexander Benjamin, the Brussels office director of the Association, said in a statement. The authors of the letter displayed “a breathtaking arrogance, a naivety, and a reckless and irresponsible attitude to the very country that represents their insurance policy,” Benjamin wrote.

The students’ statement did not call on the AJC, which is hosting Chikli at the end of a four-day conference in Israel, to disinvite Chikli from speaking Wednesday at its closing plenary session, but focused its criticism on the minister.

The statement’s authors also took issue with Chikli’s criticism of George Soros, a left-leaning Hungarian-American Jewish billionaire, for his funding of organizations with a perceived progressive agenda.

Citing the fact that Soros is the target of some antisemitic rhetoric, the student leaders wrote, “As campus leaders who fight antisemitism every day, we know the dangers of those tropes and those who defend them.”

AJC CEO Ted Deutch speaks at the AJC Global Forum in New York City in June 2022. (Courtesy)

In June 2022, Chikli penned a Facebook post about gay pride parades. He said he was glad that gay people “no longer need to be ashamed of their sexual preferences,” but that this “does not mean that it should be a reason for pride.”

The students noted that Chikli had criticized what he called “disgraceful vulgarity” on display at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, which often features revealing outfits and sexualized costumes.

Chikli “does not speak for the Diaspora. Some of us have met with him and attempted to engage with him, however, his disdain and disregard for our communities has become clear,” the students said in the statement, titled “Jewish students leaders are turning their backs on Amichai Chikli.”

Contacted by The Times of Israel, Chikli declined to comment.

“I’m used to attacks. I accept them with love,” he said.

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