JERUSALEM, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces a possible internal revolt after he offended his religious allies by making the remark that “God has not always protected us in Europe.”
The remark came in the context of the Israeli government trying to discourage Jewish religious pilgrims from traveling to the town of Uman, in Ukraine, where the chassidic legend, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, is buried.
Chassidic Jews make the annual pilgrimage to Uman around the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, to pray and to enjoy revelry — not all of which is of a strictly religious sort. The pilgrimage is also an economic boon to Ukraine. But the difficulties of wartime travel have made it difficult for pilgrims to fly directly to Ukraine, and the government is worried about the safety of those traveling to the region.
The Jerusalem Post reported:
“God hasn’t always shielded us, especially in Europe,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, concerning God’s protection of the Jewish people, when he wanted to warn of the security risk of visiting the graves of hassidic rabbis during Rosh Hashanah. Netanyahu’s statement has sparked a significant reaction from religious communities in Israel.
The prime minister, addressing those contemplating a pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah, sought to emphasize the potential dangers of the journey. “Israeli citizens traveling to Ukraine must take personal responsibility. There are no safeguards there,” he stated. The controversial part of his remarks followed, “Historically, God hasn’t always shielded us, especially in Europe and Ukraine.”
Though Ukraine has a Jewish president today, as many as 1.5 million Jews were murdered there by the Nazis in the Second World War, and Ukraine was the setting for some of the worst pogroms against Jews in past centuries.
But Netanyahu’s remark nonetheless triggered outrage in the religious community, as the Times of Israel reported:
… Netanyahu’s statement — an obvious reference to the Holocaust and possibly centuries of antisemitism and pogroms — was swiftly met with intense condemnation and repudiation from ultra-Orthodox politicians and other public figures, with some accusing the prime minister of “heresy” and one MK launching a diatribe against “the idolatry of power, vulgarity and assimilation of the secular regime.”
The Shas party issued the tamest response, saying: “God has always protected the people of Israel during all its exiles and persecutions. That is the reason the people of Israel are the only ones who have miraculously survived for thousands of years while many other powerful peoples have disappeared. Of course, the condition for divine protection is faithfulness and keeping the Torah and commandments.”
But the most hostile reaction came from United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler, who blasted Netanyahu’s “ignorance” and indicated his belief that it was the “Zionists,” rather than God, who were to blame for the suffering of Jews in the Holocaust.
Netanyahu’s coalition controls 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, but he relies on the support of religious parties for that majority. The crisis will encourage his liberal opponents to hope that they can topple the government and force new elections — ironically, not because of contentious issues like judicial reform, but because of a religious dispute.
Though he is often deferential to religious parties, Netanyahu himself is known to maintain a secular lifestyle.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.