Religious Services Minister David Azoulay dies aged 64

Azoulay served for 22 years as a back-bencher, but was given a ministerial role in the current government for the first time.

David Azoulay
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay died on Tuesday, following a long-term illness which he had been fighting for many months. He was 64.
Like many rank and file Shas Party representatives, the longtime MK lacked the charisma and dynamism of Shas leader Aryeh Deri, and was largely a loyal functionary to the party leadership.
Azoulay served for 22 years as a back-bencher, but was given a ministerial role in the current government for the first time.
Born in Meknes, Morocco, in 1954, Azoulay immigrated to Israel with his family in 1963. He served in the IDF as a combat medic, and was a member of the Acre municipal council from 1978 to 1993.
In 1996 he was elected to the Knesset for the first time with the Shas Party, serving as an MK continuously until March 2018 when he resigned due to his ill health.
Azoulay’s seat was taken up by his son Yinon.
Azoulay was appointed to his first and only ministerial post in 2015 in the current government as religious services minister, although he served as a deputy interior minister in the Sharon government from 2001 to 2003.
The party took seven seats in the 2015 election, and despite fellow party member Yaakov Margi’s previous tenure as religious services minister, Azoulay was appointed to the role, purportedly due to concerns about Margi’s loyalty to Deri in his battle with former Shas leader Eli Yishai.
Shortly after taking up his ministerial role, Azoulay said Reform Judaism was a disaster for the Jewish people. He subsequently said Reform Jews are not Jewish.
Under a storm of protest from Diaspora leaders, Azoulay backtracked somewhat, saying that all Jews are Jewish even if they sin, but insisted that Reform Judaism had damaged the Jewish people by bringing about assimilation.
Perhaps the most significant of all of Azoulay’s work as a politician came during his tenure as deputy minister for the interior, when he was appointed by then interior minister Yishai to head a professional committee to investigate the status of the Falash Mura, descendants of Jews in Ethiopia who converted to Christianity under duress in the late 19th century.
The committee included future chief rabbi Shlomo Amar who conducted the halachic research, a former head of the Interior Ministry’s Population Authority and Rabbi Yosef Hadane, head of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.
Amar and the committee determined that the Falash Mura were Jewish and should be brought to Israel but undergo a streamlined conversion process.
This led to Operation Wings of Doves which brought more than 7,000 members of the community in Ethiopia to Israel between October 2012 and August 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, ministers and MKs all paid tribute to Azoulay following the announcement of his death.
“David served for more than two decades as an MK and initiated many laws whose goal was to better the lives of the citizens of the state,” said Netanyahu.
“He was an excellent and diligent minister who was friendly to everyone loved peace and pursued peace.”
President Reuven Rivlin said he was greatly saddened to hear of Azoulay’s passing and that he had been a faithful public servant.
“David was one of the politicians most connected to all the tribes of Israel,” said Rivlin.
Azoulay is survived by his wife and four children.