As Defense Minister, Lieberman Endorsed ultra-Orthodox Pick for Chief Army Rabbi, Shas Head Says

‘Such was the level of our cooperation,’ Dery tells right-wing paper ■ Lieberman, IDF deny Rabbi Eyal Karim was not their choice

Arye Dery (L) and Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset, Israel, January 12, 2018
Olivier Fitoussi

Arye Dery, leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas, said Friday that former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the secular nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu, known for his political opposition to the ultra-Orthodox parties, had appointed Israel’s chief military rabbi on his recommendation, despite resistance from the army leadership.

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In an interview with national-religious newspaper Makor Rishon, Dery said that IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim, who was appointed in 2016, “was not the candidate recommended by the chief of staff and the army. He is too haredi [ultra-Orthodox] for them.”

“I went to Yvet and asked him to appoint him” Dery added, referring to Lieberman by his nickname. Lieberman denied the claim, as did military officials contacted by Haaretz.

Rabbi Karim was the only candidate proposed by then-Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, a military official told Haaretz. Karim was the natural candidate for the job, a source with knowledge of the details said, although he was criticized for not being liberal enough. According to Lieberman’s office, “the appointment of Rabbi Karim was recommended by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Lieberman accepted it.”

A Lieberman campaign billboard in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum

Sources close to Arye Dery told Haaretz that Lieberman himself had told the Shas leader that he had approved the appointment at his request. However, a source said that Lieberman may have been spinning the matter then and that the chief of staff may have in fact agreed to the appointment. Dery told Makor Rishon that Lieberman had called to inform him personally of the appointment. “Such was the level of our cooperation,” Dery said.

The statement comes two weeks after a Haaretz investigation of the full extent of cooperation between Lieberman and the ultra-Orthodox when he was defense minister. The investigation revealed that Lieberman’s close adviser on ultra-Orthodox matters arranged for hundreds of deferments and exemptions from conscription for the sons of well-connected members of the ultra-Orthodox community. Moreover, during Lieberman’s time as defense minister hundreds of the so-called Jerusalem Faction, who were violently demonstrating at the time against ultra-Orthodox conscription, received sweeping exemptions from enlistment and yeshiva students were granted significantly easier conditions.

Dery told Makor Rishon that Lieberman helped the ultra-Orthodox promote the selection of the two chief rabbis, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau. “When we were in the opposition the one who helped is select them was Lieberman. I give him more credits in heaven,” Dery said.

“This never happened,” Lieberman’s office denied. “We publicly supported Rabbi David Stav. We also released an official statement to that affect in the media. We did not support anyone else.”

A Shas official told Haaretz that Dery had been mistaken in his statements about Lieberman’s help to name Rabbi Lau. According to the official, Lieberman had indeed supported Stav for the office of Ashkenazi chief rabbi, and supported Yosef for Sephardic chief rabbi. An individual familiar with the matter confirmed to Haaretz that this had been the case and said that Lieberman had supported Yosef behind the scenes.

Lieberman filed a petition to the the High Court of Justice on Sunday against Yosef, demanding his removal from office because of what Lieberman called the religious leader’s “unbridled attacks” on Russian Israeli immigrants.

Avigdor Lieberman (L) at a Shas party meeting in Jerusalem, February 19, 2013. Leader Arye Dery is on the right.
Michal Fattal