Hatnua, Bayit Yehudi tussle over chief rabbi bills

Bennett to appoint women to rabbinate electoral panel, vetoes Stern Bill while Hatnua vetoes Amar Bill.

June 4, 2013 20:00
4 minute read.
Israeli government at the Knesset, April 22, 2013.

Cabinet sitting down Knesset 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)


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Relations between coalition parties Hatnua and the Bayit Yehudi continued to deteriorate Tuesday, with Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett effectively blocking a bill by MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) to make changes to the composition of the panel that chooses the chief rabbis.

The Bayit Yehudi leader’s move is the latest in an ongoing battle with Hatnua consisting of vetoes and badmouthing, which, late Monday night, brought MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) to tears.

Bennett committed to only choose women as his 10 appointees to the 150-member chief rabbi electoral committee.

The panel currently only has one female member.

In addition, Bayit Yehudi did not remove its veto of the “Stern Bill,” which enlarges the election committee for the chief rabbis from 150 to 200 members and reserves 20 percent of all seats on the panel for women. “Our solution will integrate women into the electoral body instead of giving political functionaries jobs,” Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked said.

Shaked added that the party is continuing to strengthen women, pointing out that MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) was voted onto the committee that selects religious judges.

The party called for Justice Minister and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni to congratulate the Bayit Yehudi for fighting for women’s rights and remove her party’s veto of the reform in religious services.

“The revolution [in religious services] that we initiated will bring efficiency, allow couples to register for marriage in any town and minimize politics in appointments to religious councils,” the party added. “Livni’s opposition is delaying the reform and harms the citizens of Israel.”

Hatnua called Bennett’s pledge to appoint only women “a first victory in our battle for equality for women in general, and more specifically, their right to choose the chief rabbis.”

At the same time, the party said the move is only a partial solution, and called for the Bayit Yehudi to remove its veto of the Stern Bill.

Late Monday night, ahead of the vote on a bill proposed by Muallem requiring that women be on the committee that selects religious judges, Stern accused the Bayit Yehudi MK – along with eight other members of her faction –of hypocrisy for avoiding the plenum rather than voting for his bill on the chief rabbinate.

As Stern spoke, several MKs shouted, interrupting him.

“Let’s burst this bubble: I had an appointment with the doctor who treated my cancer,” Muallem – who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 – yelled from her seat.

“You have no respect! No respect at all!” Bennett shouted.

“I’m sorry that my cancer is more important than anything else. You should be embarrassed! This is a disgrace!” Muallem said.

Soon after, Stern took the stage and asked Muallem for forgiveness, saying he did not know she had been at the doctor at the time.

Still, Shaked scolded Stern from the plenum’s stage, saying Hatnua used political tricks to get his bill through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation even though Bayit Yehudi did not yet decide its stance.

“You’re a populist, and the head of your party is a selfrighteous populist,” Shaked said. “Your bill isn’t the most important thing in the world; Shuli’s health is more important.”

The bickering in the plenum came hours after Hatnua vetoed the “Amar Bill,” which would allow chief rabbis to run for a second term, on the grounds it is “personal legislation” specifically meant to benefit Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

Hatnua vetoed the Amar Bill because the Stern Bill is still blocked. Livni’s party claims that the Bayit Yehudi is preventing the legislation from being brought to a vote because of the opposition of a bloc of conservative rabbis who are strongly against the proposal.

Several such rabbis, including the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hebron Dov Lior, sent a letter to all the Bayit Yehudi MKs before the bill’s preliminary reading saying they should not support the bill.

A source in Hatnua said that as soon as Bayit Yehudi removes its veto on the Stern bill, it would remove its veto on the Amar bill. The Amar bill was originally designed to advance the Amar-Ariel deal that would have provided for mutual support between Shas and Bayit Yehudi for their respective candidates in the elections for chief rabbis, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yaakov Ariel.

The deal collapsed and Ariel is no longer a contender, but Amar has nevertheless promised to support Bayit Yehudi’s candidate, now confirmed as Rabbi David Stav, in return for the national-religious party’s help in passing the requisite legislation to allow a serving chief rabbi to stand for a second term.

Amar’s support for Bayit Yehudi’s candidate was promised without the backing of Shas spiritual leader and Amar’s patron Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It is unclear how much tangible support on the chief rabbi’s electoral committee Amar can muster for Stav, independent of Yosef.

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