On Sunday, the brute animosity between the two halves of the Knesset was expressed mainly in the Likud, Religious Zionism, and Haredi MKs drowning out the incoming prime minister whom they insulted with robust rage, but as a group. Monday the exchanges became personal, and deep hate, borne by decades of conflict among brothers, rose to the surface.
Some of it was humorous, practically cute. At the power transfer at the housing ministry, departing minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) wished his successor Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) a short term in office. That was funny, but then the Haredi member of the opposition dove into a diatribe from his tortured kishkas: “This is a Reform government, with civil marriages. All the curses that were written in the Torah apply to this government.” By Reform, Litzman meant the reform movement, probably because one of the coalition parties, Labor, has in its ranks MK Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, as well all the advances into Israel that the anti-religious wing of the coalition want to advance in Israel.
The new finance minister Avigdor Liberman (Israel Beiteinu) used the power transfer occasion to deliver a premeditated insult at his predecessor Israel Katz (Likud) who had notoriously seen many of his top executives abandon him in a huff: “The goal is to restore the morale of the professional echelon in the finance ministry.”
But the most combative among the incoming team was undoubtedly the next Minister of Religious Services (Bennett’s old job) Matan Kahana from Yamina, who slammed his Haredi counterparts the way many Israeli national religious Jews would have probably wanted to, having suffered Haredi putdowns since the invention of the Mizrahi movement and its mortal enemy, Agudath Israel.
Speaking at the plenum Sunday night as part of the swearing-in ceremony, Minister Kahana directed his scorn at MKs Moshe Gafni and Ya’akov Litzman, notorious for their low opinion of the knitted yarmulke crowd:
“This week we were attacked harshly by several MKs from the Haredi factions. ‘A government of sh’mad (forced conversion to of Jews),’ they say. ‘Take off the yarmulkes,’ they shouted at us. And I ask those Knesset members – have you ever prayed the eighteen blessings lying in ambush, soaked in rain, shivering from the cold? Did you make sure to wash your hands even when there was no sink and a vessel near the yeshiva mess hall? Even when you really have to work hard for it? Did you wear your tzitzis to strenuous training maneuvers even when it was the most uncomfortable thing in the world? Have you ever eaten cold food in disposable dishes because you feared there might be a problem with the kashrut? Have you ever prayed to God before going into battle?” the irate Kahana let it all out.
“Who are you to teach us about reverence before heaven?” he continued. “Who are you to teach us what is the sanctification of Hashem? Shame on you! Your behavior is the worst desecration of God that can be.”
He continued: “To the Haredi public, I say, you saw your leaders during the Corona, you saw your leaders in the Meron tragedy. We are here to take care of everyone. You included. We will preserve the world of Torah. We will preserve the Jewish character of the state. We will be here to continue to sanctify the name of heaven. Like we did in the places we were before we got into politics. In the army. In business. In academia. In medicine. In the public service. As is done everywhere the people of the knitted yarmulkes are.”
Gafni responded by reminding Kahane that his own coalition leader, Yair Lapid, didn’t do any of those things either.