Justice Minister Attacks Orthodox Zionist Rabbis Who Met With Netanyahu

Ayelet Shaked reportedly tells colleagues PM is using rabbis to back him under shadow of investigations as a way to ignore the Habayit Hayehudi party

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked walks to the weekly cabinet meeting, October 20, 2016.
Marc Israel Sellem

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked harshly criticized the group of Orthodox Zionist rabbis who met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister is facing two criminal investigations and met with the rabbis in an apparent bid to secure their political support.

“It's because of them that he disregards us,” Shaked reportedly said in a private meeting with close associates from the Habayit Hayehudi party, a largely religious Zionist right-wing party that is in Netanyahu’s coalition. “Netanyahu knows that he has the rabbis [in his camp]." 

The Justice Ministry said, however, that Shaked did not recall making the statements that are being attributed to her from the meeting, saying some were inaccurate and others are false characterizations of what she said. The rabbis are considered unofficial advisers to the party.

Netanyahu is currently being investigated by the police in two cases. One dubbed Case 1000, involves valuable gifts that Netanyahu and his family allegedly received from several leading business figures. The other, Case 2000, is an investigation of conversations between the prime minister and the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon Mozes, in which there was allegedly discussion of Netanyahu pursuing government policy beneficial to Yedioth in return for favorable coverage in the newspaper.

The prime minister has said that he never intended to follow through on what was discussed with Mozes, and denies any wrongdoing in either case.

Israel Cohen, a commentator on religious parties, described the situation in Habayit Hayehudi as follows to Haaretz: “On the one hand, Habayit Hayehudi seeks to preserve the government and to do everything not to be dragged into elections.” But he added: “Party leaders are bothered, and rightfully so, that there is someone [Netanyahu] who is bypassing them and talking with rabbis over their heads. ... It looks to them like their power is being weakened.”

In the meeting between Netanyahu and the eleven leading rabbis, the prime minister sought their support in the wake of rising tensions between himself and his religious Zionist right-wing base over the corruption investigations he is facing.

According to sources with knowledge of the meeting, the rabbis brought up their opposition to the integration of women in the Israeli army and support that they sought from the prime minister regarding construction in West Bank Jewish settlements. The sources said that the rabbis made it clear that their support for Netanyahu was not guaranteed, and some of them criticized him, saying that he always calls on them when he is in dire straits and then disappears when it suits him.

The prime minister personally thanked Rabbi Haim Druckman at the meeting for expressing public opposition to this month's right-wing anti-corruption demonstration in Jerusalem, which was also considered as a practical matter a protest directed at Netanyahu himself. Druckman is an influential Orthodox rabbi and former politician.

Shaked was reportedly furious over Rabbi Druckman's call for people not to attend the right-wing anti-corruption demonstration in Jerusalem. “It’s a mistake,” she reportedly said. “He also disregards us, and religious Zionist rabbis must not back corruption.”

At her meeting with her fellow party members, Shaked is also reported to have cited a threat to her party’s clout in the prime minister's relationship with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the leader of Kulanu, another coalition partner. She said that in contrast to Habayit Hayehudi, Kahlon has no rabbis to tell him not to make trouble, and the prime minister is deathly afraid of displeasing Kahlon.