Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rejected the “hurtful remarks” of Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay, who said that he did not consider Reform Jews to be Jewish and urged them to embrace Orthodox Judaism.
Azoulay told Army Radio earlier Tuesday that “A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew.” Azoulay, a member of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, added, “These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”
After non-Orthodox Jewish groups called on Netanyahu to take a clear stance against his comments, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement claiming the “hurtful remarks” do not reflect the position of the government.
“I have spoken with Minister Azoulay to remind him that Israel is a home for all Jews and that as Minister of Religious Affairs, he serves all of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism comprise the largest denominations in the United States but are fairly unpopular in Israel, where Jewish religious life is dominated by various strains of Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the leader of Israel’s Reform movement, said that in addition to condemning Azoulay’s remarks, Netanyahu’s should “immediately spark a strategic dialogue with the leaders of the non-Orthodox movements to fully recognize their equal status in Israel.”
The Anti-Defamation League criticized Azoulay’s “outburst of demeaning and hateful comments,” while also welcoming Netanyahu’s “swift rejection of the remarks.”
“One would hope that a minister charged with administering religious affairs would be a voice for respect and tolerance of the religious views and traditions of others,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.
But rather than bridging widening divisions between the Rabbinate and non-Orthodox Israeli Jews, and growing tensions with the non-Orthodox Jewish diaspora, Foxman said, “Azoulay’s disturbing remarks contribute to an atmosphere of exclusion and growing mistrust.”
The Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation released a statement demanding that Netanyahu dismiss the minister if he makes any further “derogatory” comments.
“Diaspora Jews, and especially those in America, where Reform Judaism is the largest Jewish religious affiliation, are critical to Israel’s sense of well-being and security. Representatives of Israel’s government should treat them accordingly,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the philanthropic organization.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.