Plenum Row Highlights Tension among Religious MKs

MK Elazar Stern accused MK Moalem of avoiding a vote, but did not realize she was at a doctor's appointment.

Gil Ronen ,

MK Moalem
MK Moalem
PR photo

A public row in the Knesset plenum Monday highlighted the extremely tense situation between religious Zionists from various parties in the 19th Knesset.

The ruckus erupted when MK Elazar Stern of Tzipi Livni's Hatnua scolded Bayit Yehudi MKs for being absent from the plenum when he brought to a vote the so-called Stern Law, which would involve enlarging the body that selects the chief rabbis from 150 to 200 members, and adding 40 women to its members in the process.

He specifically singled out MK Shuli Moalem, causing MK Moalem to burst out at him. She tried to tell him that she had been at a doctor's appointment because of the cancer that he she has suffered from in her life. Stern apparently did not hear what she was saying. “Excuse me for placing my cancer before everything else,” she said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

After the event, MK Stern asked the plenum chairman, MK Moshe Feiglin, for permission to mount the podium again. He asked for MK Moalem's forgiveness and she nodded with a grave face.

"I heard a lot of shouting from the direction of the Bayit Yehudi members,” Stern wrote later on his Facebook page. “I did not understand what they were saying and I imagined that it must be related to the great tensions inside the Bayit Yehudi around this law, as they had been manifested earlier that day. When I came down [from the podium] I understood that Shuli had shouted that she had been missing from the vote because she had a doctor's appointment. I immediately approached her, apologized and asked for forgiveness.”

The agitated exchange shows how deeply divided the religious Zionist camp is at present, around issues that involve the representation of women and men in the public sphere as well. MK Stern's bill is seen by the mainstream religious Zionist rabbinic circles as a dangerous one, which would wind up giving liberal and secular representatives undue influence in selecting the chief rabbis.