Head of Israel's NSC Sent a Top Rabbi to Pressure Bennett and Shaked, Report Says

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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett in Tel Aviv, May, 2018.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett in Tel Aviv, May, 2018.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The head of the National Security Council asked a leading religious Zionist rabbi on Sunday to put pressure on the Habayit Hayehudi party not to quit the government and may have given the rabbi classified information in the process, Israel Television News reported Monday night.

Rabbi Haim Druckman spoke with party chairman Naftali Bennett Monday morning. During the conversation, he referred to National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat as “Bibi’s envoy,” the report added.  The prime minister's bureau denied the report.

According to the report, Natan Eshel, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, contacted Druckman earlier on Sunday. Eshel asked the rabbi whether he would be willing to persuade Bennett and his party colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, not to resign.

Druckman responded that he doesn’t get involved in politics, but added that he would be interested in knowing whether the security situation was indeed grave as Netanyahu had said, or routine, as Bennett did.

Consequently, Ben-Shabbat went to Druckman’s house in Mercaz Shapira, a small community in central Israel, at 11 P.M. Sunday night. According to various sources, the rabbi received classified information during this meeting, the report added.

Rabbi Haim Druckman at the Knesset, 2011.Credit: Michal Fattal

Afterward, Druckman called Bennett’s office and asked to speak with him urgently. Their conversation took place Monday morning, and the report quoted Druckman as saying, “I had Bibi’s envoy here, and I don’t think you should quit the security cabinet.”

A source told Haaretz that Bennett and Shaked had already decided not to resign by Sunday night, before the meeting with Druckman took place.

A well-known religious Zionist rabbi told Haaretz that another senior rabbi had contacted him before Bennett’s press conference Monday morning and asked him to help put rabbinical pressure on Bennett by asking him not to resign.

Another senior figure in the religious Zionist movement said, “It’s reasonable to think Netanyahu would have tried to pressure Bennett via the rabbis,” but added that he was unaware of more than one rabbi being involved in the effort.

A third source said that as far as he knew, Bennett’s decision hadn’t been significantly impacted by rabbinical pressure.

In response to the report, the prime minister’s bureau said, “The head of the NSC doesn’t deal with political issues. He never met with Natan Eshel or spoke with him and isn’t in contact with him."

“Ben-Shabbat does speak with Rabbi Druckman from time to time," they added, "but did not give him any classified information. The two live in the same town, belong to the same synagogue and are also relatives who have a close, warm relationship" (Meir’s daughter is married to Rabbi Druckman’s grandson).

“Ben-Shabbat is a professional NSC chairman and is extremely respected by security cabinet members, the heads of the defense establishment and his counterparts overseas, including in the Arab world,” the prime minister's bureau said.