In Defense of Hotovely – When Ignoring the Context, it is Easy to Castigate

Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely’s words were deliberately taken out of context by self interested parties who rushed to condemn her. This is what she actually said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Taken out of context (photo - Flash 90)

The citizens of Israel this week got a very insightful lesson in how to create a headline from scratch. The media and political hysteria surrounding the statements made by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is a wonderful lesson in how the media works. Are you a social media novice? A journalist looking for headlines or a Knesset member who wants some media attention? Take half a sentence from the Deputy Minister’s interview, put a twist on it, utter the words “outrageous”, “divisive”, and “American Jews” and there you have yourself a media made Molotov cocktail that will explode in all directions.

Within a few hours of Hotovely’s interview on I24 News, the angry responses started pouring in. Prime Minister Netanyahu hurried to condemn “Tzipi Hotovely’s offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community. The Jews of the Diaspora are dear to us and are an inseparable part of our people. There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel.”

The Zionist Union rushed to declare that they will severe contacts with the deputy minister and that they will cease all parliamentary cooperation with her.

MK Yair Lapid tweeted that “Tzipi Hotovely’s words are a combination of ignorance and arrogance”. Adding that “this government does not stop assaulting and insulting the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad.”

Anyone who could, merrily jumped on the bandwagon just to gain some valuable airtime from the celebration.

But those who added the fuel to the flame that sparked the fire that had no reason to be lit in the first place – they are the ones who are actually creating the division and the incitement.

Only a few bothered to watch the full interview and understand that it was a tempest in a teapot. Anyone who bothered to actually watch the interview itself, heard Hotovely say this –

“This is the home of the Jewish people of all streams, all of whom are welcome here to come and to influence Israeli politics. Please, just come! I am even willing to not have a right wing leadership, in order to have all Jews sharing in this beautiful, amazing place called the State of Israel.”

Those who did not listen very attentively, did not hear the “controversial” sentence in its entirety:

“But there is another issue and I think the other issue is [American Jews i.e.] not understanding the complexity of the region. People who never send their children to fight for their country. Most Jews do not have children serving as soldiers and who go to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, going to Iraq. Most of them have quite convenient lives, they don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by missiles, and I think that part of it is to experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”

The Deputy Minister’s intentions are clear – someone who does not live here is going to find it hard to understand the complexities of the region.

Indeed, just as American Jewry have difficulty understanding the complexities of Israel, so too, do Israelis find it difficult to understand the complexities of American Jewry.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of seminars, courses and academic studies that try to bring opinion setters, politicians, journalists and leaders to learn about the Jews of the Diaspora. The leadership course of the Gesher Institute and the Diaspora Ministry, the Ruderman Foundation leadership courses on the United States and even a Master’s degree in Jewish studies at the University of Haifa (all of which, I am happy to say, your’s truly, the author of this article, had the honor of participating in).

There exists a long and loving bond between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora. You can see, on the one hand, how American Jews mobilize for the benefit of IDF soldiers, the Zionist organizations that were established and supported the State of Israel over the years; and on the other hand feel, on the other side of the ocean, the huge embrace that Israel gives to lone soldiers and new immigrants, and the support that is sent to the US campuses seeking to bring them and us together.

It is only natural that the Jews of the United States will have criticism of Israel just as it is similarly natural that the Jews of Israel have the opposite criticism.

It is inconceivable though, that every time someone expresses an opinion about the Jews of the United States, a media fiasco ensues in which a deputy minister is threatened with dismissal or with the severing of coalition contacts. Criticism of this sort should be treated like criticism within the family.

Hotovely’s words were not said in a disrespectful or dismissive manner, but to the contrary – from a place of inclusion that also wants to be understood.

For years I have been lecturing all over the United States, on campuses, in synagogues and in community centers. After every lecture I receive countless questions – about Israel, about the political mix, about the settlements in Judea and Samaria, about my military service. Some of the questions are polite, some are very firm, which is fine and acceptable to me. I can handle everything.

For some reason, while it is common to criticize Israel and to try to affect policy here, it is never okay to express a critical opinion on the Diaspora community.

If we want to maintain a continuous dialogue between the two sides, if we want to understand each other better, we must stop making a mountain out of a molehill in such negligible instance as happened with the recent event.

(Translated from Hebrew)


Lital Shemesh is an Israeli Journalist and Commentator

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