Margi accuses Court justices of conflict of interest

Gafni expels Reform Movement director from committee hearing on state funding, calls Reform and Conservative movements ‘clowns.’

Margi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Margi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The High Court justices who recommended state support for non-Orthodox rabbis had conflicts of interest, Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi charged on Tuesday morning.
Margi made his accusations during a tempestuous hearing in the Knesset Finance Committee, which committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) had called to address how the state would fund the salaries of Reform and Conservative rabbis.
At the end of May, the Attorney-General’s Office announced that in accordance with the recommendation from the High Court of Justice, the state would allocate funds to pay the wages of non-Orthodox rabbis serving in regional councils, kibbutzim and moshavim, as it does for Orthodox rabbis.
Until now, the state has refused to recognize or fund any non- Orthodox leaders, although it employs and pays many Orthodox rabbis.
During the meeting, Margi said that the justices who ruled on the case should have recused themselves due to “a conflict of interests and a lack of good faith.”
One of the justices, the minister claimed, had received an award from the Reform Movement; a second informed the court that he had represented the Reform Movement in the past in a professional capacity; and another justice told the court that he was a friend of one of the petitioners and had studied with him in the past.
Margi also claimed that the Attorney-General’s Office advocate who was dealing with the issue had gotten married in a Reform ceremony.
The justices presiding over the case were Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Uzi Vogelman.
In considering a petition from the Reform Movement from 2005, they informed the attorney-general in May that unless the state revoked its policy of refusing funding to non-Orthodox rabbis, they would issue a ruling in favor of the petitioners.
The director of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who was invited to the hearing as a speaker, said that Margi’s accusations were baseless and accused Gafni and the religious establishment of trying to halt the implementation of the attorney-general’s decision.
Kariv asked to respond to the claims during the hearing, but Gafni refused the request, saying there would be an opportunity to do so in coming meetings. Kariv then accused Gafni of running the committee “as if it were the editorial board of the Yated Ne’eman haredi newspaper,” whereupon Gafni had stewards remove him from the room.
Kariv said he would be submitting an official complaint against Gafni for not allowing an invited guest to speak during the hearing, as well as for the “web of lies” presented during the meeting and “the attack on the High Court justices.”
MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), who was present at the hearing, stated that in her opinion, the Chief Rabbinate should be dismantled, and that “its behavior is causing people to go to other streams of Judaism” for their spiritual needs.
She also demanded that there be a timetable for implementing the attorney-general’s decision on non-Orthodox rabbis.
Yizhar Hass, head of the Masorti Movement (the branch of Conservative Judaism in Israel), accused Margi of mud-slinging under the cover of parliamentary immunity.
“Margi and Gafni, who for many years have allocated thousands of jobs to Orthodox rabbis, are behaving like Cossacks who have been robbed,” he said.
“[These claims] are the height of impudence.”
Gafni called the hearing to inquire about the level of funding the state intended to provide non-Orthodox rabbis, and also demanded to know how the Treasury would fund them and whether this would affect the Religious Services Ministry’s budget.
Ariel Yutzar of the Treasury’s Budgets Division did not go into specifics when addressing these questions, but said that the Treasury was still examining the issue in conjunction with the Culture and Sport Ministry, through which the funds will be transferred.
The budgets will be constructed in accordance with these deliberations, he said.
During the hearing, Gafni expressed displeasure with the attorney-general’s decision to “fund from state coffers someone who is not defined by law as a rabbi and who was not ordained by the Chief Rabbinate.”
He said that in his eyes, the Reform and Conservative movements “don’t exist,” and labeled them “clowns.”
“Who authorized the attorney-general to make this kind of decision?” he asked. “The attorney-general ruled in opposition to the stance of the Knesset, which recognizes the Chief Rabbinate as the only body authorized to deal with rabbinical issues. If he authorized himself to deal with rabbinical matters, will he be doing the same regarding health and culture?”