An Israeli politician has said sorry for suggesting that members of the Reform movement were not truly Jewish.

Orthodox Knesset member David Rotem, who had been roundly criticised by Jewish groups around the world, said his comments had been “misinterpreted”.

It follows a session of the Knesset Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, on Wednesday, in which committee chair Rotem said: “The Reform Movement is not Jewish… they are another religion, and there are many, myself included among them, who disagree with their ways and precepts”.

Rotem, from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, was quick to backtrack, saying: “I have never said belonging to the Reform movement makes anyone less Jewish.” He will now meet senior Reform leader to “clarify” his remarks.

His comments have caused a wave of indignation. In the United States, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) director Abraham Foxman said Rotem’s remarks were “inappropriate, offensive and unjustified” and that they would sow discord.

“Rejectionist rhetoric of this kind fosters divisiveness and feelings of alienation towards elements of Israeli society,” he said. “The idea that those who identify with the Reform movement are somehow not a part of the Jewish people is an unacceptable characterisation of a proud, highly engaged and committed group of Jews.”

Others went further, calling for Rotem to be removed. The Union for Reform Judaism urged Speaker Yuli Edelstein to remove him from his committee chairmanship, with Rabbi Rick Jacobs saying: “There is no way that someone who holds these views can be a fair arbiter over laws that impact the very essence of Klal Yisrael.”