Religious-Zionist Rabbis: Israeli Justice Minister Caving in to Shas on Religious Court Appointments

The rabbis argue that Ayelet Shaked has not done enough to stand up to committee chair Yuval Steinitz and to Shas, which routinely vetoes candidates it sees as too Zionist or overly liberal.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Olivier Fitoussi

Religious Zionist rabbis accused Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of allowing Shas and the other Haredi parties to veto candidates for the religious courts. Shaked is a member of the committee, which Yuval Steinitz chairs.

“An inconceivable situation has been created of giving in to the dictates of the Haredi parties and public representatives,” wrote the Executive Committee of Beit Hillel, which represents rabbis from the moderate wing of religious Zionism, in a letter sent to Shaked Thursday.

The rabbis argue that Shaked has not done enough to stand up to Steinitz and to Shas, which routinely vetoes candidates it sees as too Zionist or overly liberal. Committee members say there are no negotiations on most of the vetoed figures. These include rabbis Uriel Lavie and Yair Ben-Menachem.

“We are not asking to unfairly exploit the power given to the religious Zionist community on the committee,” the rabbis wrote. “Candidates for the religious courts are rejected not because they are not fit to be dayanim, but because their approaches on certain issues are unacceptable to the Haredim.”

A meeting scheduled for Wednesday to choose seven dayanim for the Supreme Rabbinical Court was canceled, although the panel is expected to convene twice within several days. If the committee cannot reach an agreement by July 15, the court will suspend operations. That, as a result of the High Court of Justice’s recent voiding of temporary appointments to that court.

Of the committee’s nine members, five including Shaked and rabbinic pleader Rachel Levmore are not Haredi. That will change at the end of August, when Levmore will be replaced. Last week Shaked told Haaretz that she is trying to reach an understanding with Shas, is fighting to place dayanim who are more liberal on the religious courts and that in any event Steinitz controls the committee’s agenda.

Conversations with committee members suggest that the foot-dragging is unlikely to end before the July 15 deadline. Speaking to Haaretz on condition of anonymity, members of the panel said that Shas would rather avoid reaching agreements at this stage, preferring to wait until after the summer hiatus in a bid to increase its power in the committee. According to information obtained by Haaretz, in recent weeks Shas has been lobbying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi, Shaked’s party in a bid to replace Steinitz, who belongs to Likud, with Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, from Shas, as chairman of the committee. These efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

“The composition of the committee at present creates a unique, if temporary, situation of a religious Zionist majority. Despite the special opportunity that has been created, unfortunately in practice it is not exploited to guarantee suitable representation of the Zionist religious public, and in practice an inconceivable situation has been created of giving in to the dictates of the Haredi parties and their public representatives,” the letter from Beit Hillel to Shaked said.

“Permitting the Haredi operatives to veto suitable dayanim merely because of their positions, their worldviews and their approaches would set a dangerous and pitiful precedent. We therefore call on you not to sully your tenure in the Justice Ministry with such a precedent.”