Agudat Israel’s and the Gur dynasty’s candidate for the Knesset Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf was interviewed by Channel 12 on Tuesday night and discussed with Haredi journalist Yair Sharkey the break with Lithuanian politician MK Moshe Gafni, the talks with PM wannabe Benny Gantz, and what it’s like to enter parliamentary politics at the ripe old age of 72.
Yitzhak Issachar Goldknopf (born October 30, 1950) is the candidate chosen by the central faction in Agudat Israel to replace Yaakov Litzman in the next Knesset. Goldknopf is an askan (activist) of the Gur Hasidic movement, secretary of the rabbinic committee for the sanctity of Shabbat, CEO of the Beit Yaakov and Beit Petahia kindergartens and daycare centers, and in the past served on the Jerusalem Municipality Council.
“When the Gerrer Rebbe called me and told me: ‘I have decided that you will be president of Agudat Israel in the Knesset,’ I answered ‘Hineni’ (Here I am)” said Goldknopf, using the same word Abraham used when God was seeking him on the eve of the Akeida of Yitzhak.
“When Benny Gantz called me to congratulate me, I told him I thought the best thing is to enter the Knesset at an old age,” he told Sharkey. When the latter asked him about cooperation with Gantz should the Netanyahu bloc fail to obtain 61 mandates, Goldknopf said it’s possible, but quickly clarified: “I don’t know what to say, I defer to the Council of Torah Sages.”
He also ruled out any cooperation with Prime Minister Yair Lapid: “We don’t go with Lapid, you know the beatings we got from him,” Goldknopf said.
From the start of his political career, Lapid stated that the middle class could no longer bear “the burden of the Haredi public” and promised to work to integrate them into the army, the civil service, and the labor market. In 2013, after he was appointed Finance Minister, he cut about half the budget for Haredi yeshivas and planned to cut the government and municipal budget for Haredi schools and to cancel it completely if they do not participate in the core curriculum program. He promoted the “Equal Burden” bill and threatened to dissolve the government if yeshiva students who refused to enlist in the IDF did not face criminal sanctions. He passed a gradual change in the rules for the state’s participation in the expenses of daycare centers and nurseries, according to which the father’s Kollel studies would no longer qualify as an alternative to working. He also introduced the gradual elimination of income guarantees for families with many children. He announced that the law he initiated exempting VAT payment on newlywed couples’ purchase of an apartment would only apply if they served in the IDF or national service. His 2015 budget proposal (he was ousted by PM Netanyahu in 2014) included eliminating the annual NIS 25 million funding for the construction of new religious buildings.
The Haredi response, understandably, was livid. Lithuanian leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman called Lapid Amalek, in other words, the enemy of the Jewish people and God. It may be the reason Goldknopf has been saying he desires the post of Finance Minister in the next government.
“There’s still no medic who could dress these wounds for us,” said Goldknopf, possibly hinting it would take a Haredi Finance Minister such as himself to dress those wounds. He did concede that “Lapid has changed direction, and he may change his direction even more, and his people are also trying to talk to us, but from that to making him the prime minister it’s a long way.”
Goldknopf mentioned that Netanyahu called him and congratulated him, and did the same on Twitter: “I didn’t know what Twitter was, they taught me until I learned to say it right. They told me I was famous on Twitter.”
Goldknopf’s immediate challenge, before deciding who would be the next prime minister, is to make peace within the United Torah Judaism faction, especially with the man he is replacing at the helm, MK Moshe Gafni, who is reluctant to vacate the post. Goldknopf said he and Gafni had not talked and that he was yet to call the seasoned Haredi politician, but clarified: “If I had something to say – I would call him. If he wanted to tell me that he wanted the top spot or he’s walking – he would have called me.”
By the way, all things being equal, Gafni had a stellar reputation as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. Perhaps the Haredi Finance Minister should not be Hasidic but Lithuanian…
Regarding the recent rapprochement between Lapid and Gafni, Goldknopf said that “apparently he had something to talk about with him, and he had nothing to talk about with me,” and added that the Council of Torah Sages announced regarding Lapid and his second-largest Yesh Atid party: “Don’t talk to them, don’t call them, don’t be in contact with them.”
He denies accusations in the Haredi world that as the CEO of kindergartens and daycare centers, he habitually fires his staff (that’s about 12,000 individuals) at the end of each year, to prevent them from gaining seniority. He claims those charges are baseless since everything he does is based on sound managerial decisions.