Gafni Beats Out Litzman, Will Head Finance C'tee

Knesset Member Moshe Gafni will be the next chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, the United Torah Judaism faction in parliament decided yesterday. The race had been between Gafni and the committee's former leader, Yaakov Litzman. The Finance Committee itself has to confirm the appointment next week.

Gafni won the support of two UTJ members besides himself, MKs Meir Porush and Uri Maklev. Litzman won the support of MK Eliezer Moses. In conversations prior to the vote, Litzman had indicated he thought Porush would support him, but Porush was nursing a beef over the fact Litzman hadn't thrown his support behind his bid for the Jerusalem mayoralty five months ago.

After the vote, Litzman stalked out of the party meeting and announced that he refused to serve as deputy health minister, the second executive position offered to UTJ, after the faction chose him for that post. It is expected that Moses will assume the position of deputy health minister.

The Finance Committee is one of the most important - and prestigious - of the Knesset panels. It is responsible for overseeing the budget, for one thing. Tax reforms also fall under its purview, as do laws pertaining to the banks and insurance sector.

The status of the committee chairman is equivalent to that of a minister. UTJ demands the position because its members are unwilling to fill ministerial seats - and because as committee leader, their man is positioned to persuade the treasury to provide more financing to yeshivas.

Gafni, 57, is married, with three children, and lives in Bnei Brak. He represents the Degel Hatorah faction of UTJ. He previously served as deputy minister of religious affairs and as the chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. In 2002 Gafni won the Israel Union for Environmental Defense award for being the "greenest " MK, in recognition of environmental legislation he sponsored.