New York – The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has strongly condemned Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ remarks concerning religious Jews and the 200,000 anti-Gaza withdrawal demonstrators as insensitive, anti-religious, disgraceful and even undemocratic.
Speaking to a Labor faction on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2005 about the massive rally that took place in front of the Knesset, Peres derisively dismissed these Israeli citizens as “a protest of shlemazels.” (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 31, 2005) A shlemazel is a Yiddish term used to demean someone for being an inept idiot who can’t really help himself.
In a letter to Shimon Peres, ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, ZOA Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt, and ZOA National Executive Committee Chairman Dr. Alan Mazurek wrote, “For a Vice Prime Minister to use this ugly epithet to refer to Israeli citizens participating in a huge protest rally, in which approximately 4% of Israel’s Jewish population attended, is an inflamatory insult.” (If 4% of US citizens attended a protest rally, you’d have approximately 10 million people there).
But Vice Prime Minister Peres didn’t stop there. He then dismissed the entire rally claiming that “it is easy to get 120,000 (sic) religious Jews to leave their homes, it would have been an achievement to attract 120,000 secular people.”
“Can you imagine the outcry if a leader of any civilized nation dismissed and demeaned a huge non-violent democratic rally because it was made up of ‘religious Christians’. Or imagine if former PM Netanyahu would have criticized a left-wing protest for being made up of “secular and reform Jews who are a bunch of shlemazels” and added “It would have been an achievement if they attracted all religious Jews” — he would have been criticized mercilessly and rightly so. Mr. Peres, what you are really saying is that the beliefs of the secular are worth much more than those of the religious. This is religious bigotry. No Jew should accept this, especially in a Jewish country.” added Klein, Goldblatt and Mazurek in their letter.
“Mr. Peres,” the ZOA letter went on, “at a time when so many Jews and Israelis are trying to bridge the gap between religious and secular, you inflame the situation with your thoughtless remarks.” It is especially noteworthy that Peres has the chutzpah to make these comments when in the last election his Labor Party received only 29% of the vote while Likud leader Sharon received 71% running on a platform of never giving away the Jewish section of Gaza.
The ZOA officers ended their letter to Vice PM Shimon Peres by stating, “We demand a public apology and retraction of these appalling and hurtful remarks. Words of this nature should never be used by a leader when speaking about law-abiding citizens making their views known in a non-violent protest. This is all the more troubling when one considers that the Sharon/Peres regime refuses to hold a national referendum on this critical issue, while the only vote taken on this issue (by Likud members only) rejected the withdrawal plan by a landslide of 60% – 40%.”