TEL AVIV - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday rapped his deputy foreign minister for "offensive" remarks in which she said US Jews were too "comfortable" to understand threats to Israel.
In an interview on Tel Aviv-based i24 TV news channel, Tzipi Hotovely of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party was quizzed Wednesday on the growing gulf between Israel and US Jewry, particularly youth.
"Maybe they're too young to remember how it feels to be a Jewish person without a Jewish homeland, without a Jewish state," she said in English, adding that US Jewry "never send their children to fight for their country".
"Most of the Jews don't have children serving as soldiers, going to the marines, going to Afghanistan or to Iraq," she said.
"Most of them are having quite a convenient life, they don't feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets."
US-educated Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, described his deputy's comments as offensive.
"There is no place for such attacks, and her remarks do not reflect the position of the State of Israel," an English-language government statement quoted him as saying.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns Tzipi Hotovely's offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community," it added.
The left-leaning Haaretz newspaper challenged Hotovely on the facts, pointing out that the head of the US Air Force, General David Lee Goldfein, is Jewish, along with others "in the highest ranks".
"Around 200,000 US Jews live in Israel, with many young people serving in its military," it said.
The Israeli army and local media frequently air interviews with "lone soldiers" from the United States; young men and women who have left their families at home and come to Israel for the express purpose of volunteering for army service, including combat units.
Divisions between Israel and the US Jewish community have grown lately over Netanyahu's refusal to implement a deal allowing women and men to pray together at Jerusalem's Western Wall.
In Israel, Jewish religious observance is governed by Orthodox practice, while in the United States the more flexible reform and Conservative streams are prevalent.
Netanyahu's government is also sensitive to the demands of ultra-Orthodox political parties which sit in his coalition and provide vital support for its slender parliamentary majority.
Under pressure from them, Netanyahu in June froze indefinitely a previous commitment to allow egalitarian prayer at the wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
In accordance with strict Orthodox tradition, there are currently separate prayer sections for women and men at the wall, one of the last remnants at the believed site of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD.