MK Moshe Gafni
MK Moshe GafniIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A rabbinical court in Bnei Brak has thrown out a lawsuit against UTJ MK Moshe Gafni brought by residents of Gush Katif who were thrown out of their homes in the 2005 disengagement. The residents have brought several suits against Gafni in various rabbinical courts; so far all have been dismissed.

The latest dismissal came in the court of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, a leader of the Bnei Brak Lithuanian yeshiva community. The plaintiffs have been demanding compensation from Gafni and from UTJ for losses they suffered in the disengagement. Many families were not fully compensated, and were saddled with heavy debts to banks for mortgages on the homes that were demolished.

According to many of the families who were evicted in order to “cleanse” the Jewish communities of Gaza before handing them over to the Palestinian Authority, government actuaries deliberately undervalued their homes in order to reduce the compensation costs the government would have to shell out for those evicted.

Still saddled with those debts – and with some still unable to afford to buy another home – numerous families have tried to recoup their money in legal actions and complaints against the government. Several families have also targeted Gafni, who was leader of UTJ in 2005, when the government voted to approve the disengagement. Gafni was at the time head of the Knesset Finance Committee, which approved the state budget for that included funding for the disengagement. Had he held up approval, which he could have as head of the committee, the complainants contend, the plan might have fallen through, and they would not have experienced the heavy losses.

Jewish courts of law – batei din - are not empowered to hand down enforceable  legal decisions, but rather have the status of arbitrators; if both sides agree in advance, the decision of the court is binding and will be upheld in government-sanctioned courts. Both sides in the case signed an arbitration agreement, presenting their cases to three “heavyweights” of the rabbinical world – Rabbis Yehuda Salomon, Sariel Rosenberg, and Yaakov Farbstein.

In their decision, the rabbis said that the lawsuit was aimed at the wrong person; Gafni, they wrote, was not a representative of the plaintiffs (several of whom were UTJ voters), nor even of his party; he was a representative of the gedolim, the rabbis who advised UTJ on policy, and who the members of the party are bidden to hearken to. UTJ MKs, including Gafni, “are messengers of the great rabbis of the generation, and if they are no longer with us, the next generation of rabbinical leaders.”

In addition, the rabbis wrote, “at no time did Gafni or anyone else from UTJ raise their hand to vote in favor of any aspect of the disengagement. As head of the Finance Committee, Gafni's job was to approve the overall state budget, which contains funding for many different matters.

Even if Gafni had been personally responsible for his vote and the plaintiffs had supplied votes to put him in that position, we cannot assign responsibility for the damages the plaintiffs sustained to approval of a general state budget,” the rabbis said, adding that the case was “completely without merit.” Representatives of the plaintiffs said that they had not decided whether to continue pursuing the matter.