Minister of Religious Affairs, MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, (Bayit Yehudi) who has silently absorbed a wave of insults in recent months, has vented his frustration at the leadership of the Shas hareidi-Sephardic party for not putting a stop to the abuse. The attacks reflect the tension between hareidim and religious Zionists, that peaked in the aftermath of recent elections.
Rabbi Ben-Dahan arrived to comfort mourners at the home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Z'tz'l, earlier this week, and was verbally attacked by a small number of hareidi supporters of Shas. "You are not worthy of mentioning his [Rabbi Yosef's] name, you are evil, destroyer of Israel," one man called out. Rabbi Ben-Dahan was also beaten and kicked at the funeral itself.
The first attack was at last month's induction of Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's son, as Israel's new Sephardic Chief Rabbi. At the ceremony, the head of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, shouted out to Rabbi Ben Dahan, "the title 'Deputy Minister of Religions' is not a crown, it's like a potty dirtied by babies, and you put it on your head."
Rabbi Ben-Dahan questioned why none of the leaders and rabbis of the Shas Party have protested the attacks on him and on the religious Zionist community as a whole. "They cannot stand at the sidelines, is this the behavior of Torah abiding Jews?" he asked.
"Even if there are disagreements," Ben-Dahan continued, "to come and attack, pushing and punching at the funeral?" he quizzed. "I try to stay calm, because I understand that these were just hoodlums, but the complaint is with the Shas rabbis and its leaders," he noted. "A failure to stand up against these attacks will mean they will only increase."
Personal security team
The Deputy Minister said that in view of the attacks against him, he has been told to notify the Unit for Protection of VIPs whenever he is about to visit a "sensitive population area."
"In principle, I am not under tight protection all the time," he said, but added that the Unit for Protection of VIPs had apologized for failing to protect him at the funeral on Monday. Members of the team admitted there had been "a malfunction" and said that they would learn the lesson.
Rabbi Ben-Dahan said that the attacks on him from Rabbi Cohen smacked of hypocrisy. Rabbi Cohen has previously said that the knitted kippah wearing religious Zionists are the manifestation of Amalek, an ancient enemy of the Jews, noted Ben-Dahan, but Shas is now backing candidate Moshe Lion, a religious Zionist with a knitted kippah, in the upcoming Jerusalem mayoral race.
Rabbi Ben-Dahan also said that the attacks on him had been personal and that he had been singled out. "They attack me," he said, "but Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) who accompanied me to the comfort the Yosef family was embraced."
He added that even though Peretz advocates enlisting Israel's hareidi yeshiva students to the IDF at age 18, "they [the crowds] received him with respect."
Apology not accepted
Despite receiving a personal apology from the new Chief Rabbi, Yitzchak Yosef, following Rabbi Cohen's abusive remark during the induction ceremony, Rabbi Ben-Dahan said "the apology is not accepted." He added that he thanked Rabbi Yosef for the sentiment but, seeing as the disgrace took place in public "and you were all quiet," it warranted a public statement of apology, which had not been forthcoming.
Turning to the attack on him by Rabbi Shalom Cohen, Ben-Dahan said he had been confused as to why the relationship had turned so sour. "Rabbi Shalom Cohen was my neighbor for 20 years in the Jewish Quarter," he said, "and when I was Director of [former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai] Eliyahu's office, he would contact me and ask me for things, and I was always helpful and assisted him. I'm very surprised," he said.