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In apparent punishment, Hotovely grounded after insulting US Jews

Prime Minister’s Office instructs deputy FM to abort Czech Republic trip following furor last week over her disparaging comments

Tzipi Hotovely (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Tzipi Hotovely (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A scheduled trip to the Czech Republic by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely was reportedly scrapped a week after she disparaged US Jewry in an interview in English.

Hotovely had been scheduled to leave for the Czech Republic on Wednesday. Hours before her departure, the Prime Minister’s Office contacted her and told her not to travel to the Eastern European country, Hadashot news reported Wednesday afternoon.

The report characterized the order as punishment for the deputy FM’s comments.

Hotovely’s office said the trip was postponed, not canceled.

Leaders of the Reform movement in the United States and Israel have called for Hotovely’s removal.

Hotovely appeared on November 22 on i24, an Israel-based English-language news channel. She was addressing increased tensions between Israel and US Jewry, including over restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall and over the Israeli government’s policies on Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians.

After stating that she wished more American Jews would move to Israel to influence its political process and to “bring American Jews closer to Israel,” she segued into a depiction of US Jews as distant from the sacrifices other Americans make, and from the threats that govern life in Israel.

“The other issue is not understanding the complexity of the region,” she said. “People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”

The following day Netanyahu condemned what he called the “offensive remarks” about American Jews by his deputy foreign minister. “The Jews of the Diaspora are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people,” Netanyahu also said.

Hours later Hotovely apologized for her remarks, but she did not retract them.

“They are my brothers,” she said in an interview with Hadashot news. “If someone was hurt by my words I’m very sorry.”

In the wake of reports that Netanyahu was considering firing Hotovely from her position, she said that he had actually spoken to her not long before she gave the offending interview, and told her to be sensitive to world Jewry.

“He was right,” she said on Hadashot news on Thursday evening. “He told me how important the subject was to him and how sensitive it was to him as the leader of the Jewish people.”

However, she then said again that even though “Diaspora Jewry is dear to us all… it pains us that lots of people [in the wider Jewish nation] don’t understand that we [in Israel] are fighting a war of self-defense, not a war for territorial expansion or a war to harm other people.”

If she were to recalibrate her remarks now, she told Hadashot, she would say that “a very small country, surrounded by a hostile region, is not the same as a huge nation, that fights its wars far from its borders. Apparently the experience of daily living in America is different from that in Israel. That does not mean that brothers don’t need to talk within the family,” she said. “Expressing that message is far more important to me than being deputy foreign minister. I care about the Jewish people and our connection to the Diaspora.”

The dust-up comes as liberal Jewish movements seek more rights at the Western Wall and are disappointed at Netanyahu for reneging on an agreement that would have seen more recognition of egalitarian prayer at the site.

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