Despite Election Promise, Yair Lapid to Support ultra-Orthodox Candidate for Rabbinical Court Panel

Decision by Yesh Atid leader Lapid, who pledged to fight religious coercion, reportedly forced two party members to abandon their own candidacies

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid talking to party activists, December 4, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Despite his election campaign pledges to fight religious coercion, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is expected Monday to support the candidacy of an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker to the committee that appoints judges to Israel’s rabbinical courts.

Lapid has ordered his party’s politicians to vote for MK Yoav Ben-Tzur of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, a source in Yesh Atid told Haaretz.

The election for the lawmaker who will serve on the committee will be held in the Knesset on Monday, and Yesh Atid MKs are scheduled to hold a meeting on the matter before the vote.

Lapid’s decision to reportedly support Ben-Tzur has forced two of his own party’s MKs, Elazar Stern and Aliza Lavie, to abandon their own candidacies.

Yesh Atid’s support for the Shas candidate could prove decisive in the race, because the election is by a secret ballot of all 120 MKs, any of whom are entitled to declare their candidacy.

The present Knesset representative on the committee for appointing dayanim (religious court judges) is MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), who has now been named a deputy Knesset speaker.

According to the governing coalition agreements signed between Likud, Shas and UTJ, the coalition’s representative on the committee will come from one of the two ultra-Orthodox parties, and they will rotate the position between themselves. Now that UTJ’s Eichler is leaving the committee, it is Shas’ turn.

But despite the coalition agreements, a number of other MKs from the coalition have announced their candidacy: Yehudah Glick and Sharren Haskel (both Likud), and Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi).

Glick had asked Lapid for his support, but was told Yesh Atid had already promised its votes to Ben-Tzur. Glick said he was very surprised, since Yesh Atid claims to be fighting religious coercion but is supporting the ultra-Orthodox candidate. “We have an opportunity now to make a change,” he said.

Ben-Tzur told Haaretz that Lapid had not actually promised him his support, only that he would not offer a candidate from his own party because he knew they did not have a chance of being elected.

“I don’t know if he will tell his people to vote for me or if he will give them freedom to vote [as they choose]. I’m friends with a lot of Knesset members from Yesh Atid and I hope they will vote for me,” said Ben-Tzur.

Speaking about the candidacies of other coalition MKs seeking to stand in violation of the coalition agreement, Ben-Tzur said Yogev would probably withdraw his candidacy on Sunday, but it was a case of wait and see regarding the other two lawmakers.

He added that he expects the new coalition whip, MK David Amsalem (Likud), to deal with the matter and honor the coalition agreements.

Lapid declined to comment for this report.