Benjamin Netanyahu son's romance with Norwegian sparks uproar
The love life of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son is setting off sparks - in Israeli politics.
News that Yair Netanyahu, 23, is dating a statuesque non-Jewish Norwegian university student is not only a juicy item for the gossip pages. It has also triggered uproar from religious lawmakers opposed to intermarriage, and prompted debate over the Jewish state's relationship with the outside world.
The Israeli prime minister reportedly boasted to his Norwegian counterpart, Erna Solberg, about his son's relationship with Sandra Leikanger at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. A photo of the smiling young couple appeared in Israeli and Norwegian newspapers.
On Monday, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said he believed the relationship actually caused Netanyahu and his wife great heartache. Arieh Deri said the relationship was no mere personal matter because Netanyahu was a "symbol of the Jewish people".
"I know friends who invest tens of millions and more, hundreds of millions, to fight assimilation in the world," Deri said. "If God forbid it's true, woe to us."
Other groups called on Netanyahu to put a stop to the relationship. Even the prime minister's brother-in-law, Hagai Ben-Artzi, took to the airwaves to speak out against it.
"Yair should know that if he does such a thing, if he doesn't break off the relationship, then ... he is spitting on the graves of his grandmother and grandfather who loved him so much and raised him," Ben-Artzi said.
Ben-Artzi, an outspoken Jewish nationalist who is often critical of the prime minister, said he had not spoken to the family in months. "Maybe they weren't in touch because they were afraid to tell me," he said.
Netanyahu's office declined to comment, as did Leikanger.
Israel has always had an ultra-Orthodox minority of devout and conservative Jews, who account for just 10 per cent of the population. Thanks to their political clout, they oversee weddings, divorces and burials - meaning that the younger Netanyahu would not be permitted to marry his girlfriend in Israel - if they one day get serious - unless she converted. Orthodox Jewish Law prohibits intermarriage.
Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli education minister and onetime leader of the secular-rights party Meretz, called the younger Netanyahu's love life a private matter. He said the uproar was nonsense.
"It's not fair. You can't expect fairness from those people," Sarid said. "They don't like non-Jews. They don't like non-Orthodox Jews. They are behaving as fanatics everywhere behave."
Noah Slepkov, an associate fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, said the row was bad for a country that increasingly finds itself isolated. "We're insecure," he said. "People need to realise that a few per cent of our people intermarrying is not going to hurt this."
Yair, a university student, is the son of Netanyahu's third wife, Sara.