The Minister of Israel's ultra-Orthodox

By putting the brakes on a bill seeking to silence mosques, ultra-Orthodox Minister Yaakov Litzman created the impression he sought solidarity with Muslim worshippers. On Sunday, he proved just how mistaken that impression was.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
Moti Milrod

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, chairman of United Torah Judaism, has been trying for a while to create the impression that contrary to expectations, he is not a sectoral minister who is concerned only about the interests of the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox). Until now he has done so with a certain degree of success.

But on Sunday it turned out that Litzman is about to return to being a politico for the Haredim and nothing more. Litzman is likely to withdraw the appeal he submitted against the Muezzin Law, in exchange for excluding the Shabbat sirens from the law. If the deal being cooked up works out, the draft bill can be brought for a vote in a preliminary reading already in another two days.

Litzman submitted the appeal last week, at the conclusion of discussions he held with the Joint List. In these discussions the health minister discovered that the version about to come up for a vote would prevent the Friday afternoon sirens that announce the beginning of Shabbat in Jewish communities.

Excluding the Jews’ sirens from the draft bill exposes the real face of the law: This is a law that is designed only to degrade the Muslims in the State of Israel and to hurt their feelings and undermine their freedom of worship.

Suddenly it turns out that noise made by Jews is not noise; only noise made by Muslims disturbs the peace and the peace of mind of those proposing the law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for the law with a burst of totally unexplained enthusiasm. Suddenly it also turns out that the State of Israel is not ashamed to pass laws designed to harm only one sector, the Arabs of course. But Litzman’s submission also heralded another evil. It removed from the agenda a possibility of welcome cooperation, which is very rare around here, between the two minorities – the Haredim and the Arabs – who are the poorest and most excluded communities in Israel.

Anyone who mistakenly thought, even for a moment, that Litzman was interested in solidarity with the Muslim believers and with their customs and rituals, with the members of the other minority in society – was in for a big disappointment. Litzman returned to being a wheeler-dealer for the Haredim, who is not interested in the other sectors. Certainly not the Arabs.

There should and could be cooperation between the Haredim and the Arab community, which would include expressions of identification and mutual assistance, since both these communities sometimes fight for the same issues. But the illusion that such cooperation would come to pass has been set aside.

Litzman’s appeal could have heralded the beginning of a new chapter in relations between the two communities, and perhaps also between Israeli Jews and Arabs in general. Litzman hastened to put an end to this possibility. What a shame.