David Azoulay, Israel Minister of Religious Services

Its time for Netanyahu to stand up for Reform Jews

David Azoulay, Israel Minister of Religious Services
David Azoulay, Israel Minister of Religious Services

Perhaps you have read the outrageous remarks of Israel’s minister of religious affairs David Azoulay who announced that Reform Jews are not Jewish. Azoulay, speaking on Army Radio, stated that “as soon as a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel… I can’t allow myself to say that such a person is a Jew.”

There was nothing all that surprising about his remarks. As an Orthodox Jew and member of the Shas party, his pronouncement was totally consistent with the beliefs and policies of Israel’s rigid Orthodox community. For as long as Israel has been a state, the Orthodox have done everything in their power to suppress non-Orthodox movements. The list of offenses is too vast to recount here.

What is so outrageous is that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu appointed Mr. Azoulay to this ministerial position as part of his deal to form a government of convenience. The Prime Minister demonstrated his willingness to throw the Reform movement under the bus, despite the essential support Reform and Conservative Jews in the U.S. provide to Israel. The disenfranchisement of Reform Jews began, not with Azoulay’s diatribe, but with his selection to the post he holds and, frankly, long before.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, finding himself in an uncomfortable position, merely tip-toed into the fray when he criticized the remarks, describing them as “hurtful” and stressing that they “do not represent the position of the government.”

Sorry, Bibi, you don’t get a dayeinu for that.

This slap on the wrist was totally insufficient, probably disingenuous. Nothing less than removing Azoulay from his post will suffice, but it is unlikely to happen. For all of Mr. Netanyahu’s bluster on the subject of Iran, his rebuke was pathetically timid, that of a spineless politician interested mostly in saving his job.

American Jews have a long history of steadfast support for Israel. The Reform movement, its rabbis and members have stood behind Israel even while feeling disappointed by certain policies.

I am not ready to say that this support should end.

However it is time for Israel’s elected leaders to give us considerably more respect. A good beginning would be by sacking Mr. Azoulay. Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to step up to the plate. For him to say that these hideous remarks do not represent the view of his government is no more than an empty platitude. He should say that he disagrees personally, (particularly since Mr. Netanyahu is a secular Jew.) and that since Mr. Azoulay’s opinions are not those of his government, therefore Azoulay has to go. If he takes political flack from certain members of his coalition, so be it. If his coalition should fall apart, that would be okay too. Otherwise his pronouncements amount to nothing more than hot air.

With a dose of political courage this could be a watershed event, one that is long overdue.

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