Gafni rips Agudath Yisrael faction, hints of split

Degel Hatorah head Moshe Gafni slams UTJ counterparts from Agudath Yisrael, hints shaky union may collapse over Draft Law.

Tzvi Lev ,

MKs Maklev, Gafni, Litzman
MKs Maklev, Gafni, Litzman
Flash 90

UTJ co-head Moshe Gafni ripped his counterparts from Degel Yisrael over what he said was their divisive behavior regarding the Draft Law and hinted that the shaky alliance between the Lithuanian-haredi factions may soon fall apart.

The UTJ party is a joint list of the hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction and the non-hasidic Degel Hatorah faction. Degel Hatorah was founded in 1988 at the behest of Rabbi Elazar Shach, who had pushed for the establishment of a party dedicated to the needs of the non-hasidic haredi community. Currently, Agudat Yisrael is represented in the Knesset by four of UTJ's six MKs, while Degel has two.

The two separate Ashkenazic-haredi parties first joined together prior to the 1992 elections. The competing factions have not always agreed on policy matters and ran as separate lists in 2004 before reuniting in 2006.

In a meeting with Degel Yisrael leadership earlier this week, Gafni said that the deep differences with Agudath Yisrael regarding the Draft Law was weakening the alliance between them. UTJ's Council of Torah Scholars - affiliated with the Agudat Yisrael faction - has opposed the plan unless changes are made, but Degel Hatorah, as well as the Sephardic-haredi Shas party, believe that they will be able to come to agreements and advance the law.

"I met all the members of the Council of Torah Sages and everyone unanimously believed that the High Court of Justice should be moved and the draft law should be passed in an orderly manner but they ordered us to go with Agudath Yisrael so that they wouldn't hear two voices," said Gafni, according to the Behadrei Haredim website.

"Unfortunately," Gafni continued, "Agudath Israel went in two opposite directoin. First they said that if there is no law, they will quit the coalition and then changed their minds and said that if there is a law, they will quit the coalition."

Agudath Yisrael head and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman had blindsided UTJ members after announcing that if the Draft Law passes its second and third readings, UTJ will leave the coalition. Gafni and Uri Maklev demanded clarification following Litzman's ultimatum and released a statement clarifying that Litzman's announcement "does not obligate them."

Gafni added that the only reason Degel Hatorah did not split off from Agudath Yisrael following Litzman's announcement was that Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to lead a government with the resulting narrow parliamentary majority.

"The prime minister refused to go to a coalition without Agudath Israel because of the political situation of 62 members of the coalition which would not allow Netanyahu maneuvrability," Gafni said.

Gafni also ripped fellow UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler for coming out against the Nationality Law, a move Gafni said undermined UTJ's united front. "What is this supposed to be?" asked Gafni. "We had an agreement."