The recently exposed relationship between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's son Yair and his non-Jewish girlfriend, Norweigan Sandra Leikanger, has set off a wave of debate over the question of assimilation within the Jewish state. The two study together at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.
Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri commented on the reports in an interview with the hareidi-religious radio station Kol Barama, noting that while he doesn't like to talk about personal topics, the relationship of the prime minister's son isn't just a personal matter, because Netanyahu is a "symbol of the Jewish people."
"I know friends of mine who invest tens of millions and more, hundreds of millions to fight assimilation in the world," commented Deri. "If G-d forbid it's true, woe to us. ...I hope it's not true."
Deri commented that Netanyahu and his wife Sarah have reportedly expressed pride in their older children for observing Shabbat, stating "if this thing is true, there's a huge heart-break for him and Sarah from this."
The recently revealed relationship has sparked controversy over the topic of assimilation within Israel, the Jewish state.
One Facebook user, calling himself a "kosher" Jew who "keeps the commandments," even while admitting to being engaged to a non-Jew, came out in defense of Yair. Using insulting invective against the "Class C Jews" who oppose such relationships, the Israeli man talked about his relationship with a Japanese woman.
The defender of Yair reported the woman's commitment to him, claiming their love is such "that even after we argue and almost come to blows, shout to the heavens and don't agree, I just want to hug (her)." The post, which appeared Sunday, received over 6,000 likes in roughly a day, but many commenters fired back at Yair, noting that his children will not be considered Jews.
The Lehava group combating assimilation in Israel responds
Bentzi Gopshtain, director of Lehava, a Jewish education group fighting assimilation in Israel, published a letter to Netanyahu on his Facebook page Sunday. There he called on Netanyahu "to prevent this relationship."
Addressing the prime minister, Gopshtain wrote "the consequences of your son's actions, despite his being private individual, are far-reaching, both in terms of your family personally and in more national terms as well."
"On the personal level, his children - your grandchildren, as you certainly know, will not be Jews; their name may be Netanyahu, but Netanyahu the non-Jew. On the national level, this is the son of the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish nation, who will join the six million (lost Jews in the Holocaust) as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir declared," noted Gopshtain.
The Lehava director further criticized the hypocrisy of Netanyahu in "investing millions" in preventing assimilation among Jews outside of Israel, and yet providing an example and encouragement for the phenomenon from the prime minister's house in Jerusalem.
Gopshtain added that conversion wouldn't solve the issue in this case according to Jewish law, noting that a conversion done in order to marry, rather than from a true desire to become a Jew, is invalid.
In 2012 Gopshtain sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to reconsider marrying his non-Jewish girlfriend given the impact on world Jewry.
Sources have confirmed that Leikanger is not Jewish. The news about Yair's relationship with her leaked after Netanyahu told his Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg the two had recently holidayed in Norway.
Yair is the son of Netanyahu's third wife, Sarah. Netanyahu was himself married to a non-Jewish woman, Fleur Cates, between 1981 and 1984. Netanyahu has claimed that she converted, although this has never been confirmed.
Last June, during a state visit to Poland, Jewish community members said they witnessed Netanyahu and other government officials eating non-kosher food despite the efforts to prevent Poland to ban shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter).