Katsavs comments fan flames of secular-religious rift

"If secularism dominated in the past hundreds of years, we would have long ago disintegrated and dispersed."

He also reportedly said when making a reference to two legislators from secular parties, "I say to all of the Tommy Lapids and Yossi Sarids to show respect for those who keep the Torah commandments."

Knesset member Joseph Paritzky, of the secular-rights Shinui Party headed by Lapid, threatened to start impeachment proceedings unless Katsav apologized.

If not for the secular "Zionist movement that brought the Jewish people to its homeland," said Paritzky, "Katsav would still be sitting in Iran under an Ayatollan regime."

"If that's unity, I wonder what incitement is," said Sarid, leader of the Meretz Party.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran as a child, tried to put an end to the controversy by saying his remarks were taken out of context and not intended to offend.

Meretz and Shinui officials accepted Katsav's apology.