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Netanyahu Remarks on Leftists Spur New Internal Controversy

October 23, 1997
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An open microphone has created a new controversy for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli left-wing politicians are demanding that Netanyahu apologize for his statement that left-wingers “have forgotten what it means to be Jewish.”

Netanyahu made his remarks Tuesday when he visited the sukkah of religious leader Rabbi Yitzchak Kadouri to celebrate their birthdays, which fall on the same date.

Netanyahu did not know that an Israel Radio microphone was taping his remarks.

Netanyahu is 48. Kadouri’s exact age is unknown, but he is believed to be more than 100.

As Netanyahu leaned over to the hard-of-hearing rabbi, an Israel Radio microphone also recorded him saying that leftists “believe they can trust our security in the hands of the Arabs.”

His comments triggered an angry uproar.

Labor Party head Ehud Barak said Israel deserved a premier who is more serious, mature and responsible.

“Netanyahu will not teach me or anyone else what Judaism is,” said Barak.

Yossi Sarid, leader of the dovish Meretz Party, said, “Netanyahu has forgotten what it means to be a human being, and he has never known what it means to be a prime minister.”

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said Netanyahu’s comments reminded him of the “last days of Pompeii” and that they should not have been made at a time when “Israel faces dangers such as missiles from Syria and Iran.”

In an interview Wednesday on Israel Radio, Netanyahu said his comments had been taken out of context and that he had merely wanted to explain to Kadouri his differences with the left regarding the negotiations with the Palestinians.

“They were not about Judaism as a religion or Judaism as a nationality, but rather as something that we, as members of the Jewish nation, have learned — a principle that has guided us over the course of the past 100 years or so in Israel.”

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