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Comments from Israeli President Fan Flames of Secular-religious Rift

Less than two weeks on the job, Israeli President Moshe Katsav is learning how difficult it will be to keep his inaugural promise to foster unity. Katsav drew the ire of secular-rights activists over remarks attributed to him in an interview with a fervently Orthodox newspaper.

The religiously observant Katsav, who took office two weeks ago promising to promote tolerance and national unity, was quoted as saying that “the Jewish people would not exist if not for” the observant.

“If secularism dominated in the past hundreds of years, we would have long ago disintegrated and dispersed.”

He was also quoted as saying, making a reference to two legislators from secular parties, “I say to all of the Tommy Lapids and Yossi Sarids to show respect for those who keep the Torah commandments.”

Knesset member Joseph Paritzky, of the secular-rights Shinui Party headed by Lapid, threatened to start impeachment proceedings unless Katsav apologized for the remarks.

If not for the secular “Zionist movement that brought the Jewish people to its homeland,” said Paritzky, “Katsav would still be sitting in Iran under an Ayatollan regime.”

“If that’s unity, I wonder what incitement is,” said Sarid, leader of the Meretz Party.

Katsav, who as a child immigrated with his family to Israel from Iran, tried to put a quick end to the controversy, saying his remarks were taken out of context and that he did not intend to offend anyone.

Officials from Meretz and Shinui accepted Katsav’s apology.

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