The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party hit back Wednesday against criticism of his attempts to get a Knesset member to vote on a controversial bill hours after the death of his wife. In a radio interview, Aryeh Deri also appeared to confirm he had sought to bring MK Yehudah Glick to the Knesset after the funeral on Monday, but denied he had exerted undue pressure.
The widowed lawmaker’s spokesman said Tuesday that Glick (Likud) had been asked to go from his wife’s funeral to take part in a vote on the so-called mini-markets bill, which would shutter shops and convenience stores on Shabbat.
Hours later, responding to media reports that named him as being behind the request, Deri — the interior minister and main proponent of the bill — confirmed that he had contacted the head of the Har Hevron Regional Council, Yochai Dimri, to ask him to check with the rabbi of Otniel, the West Bank settlement where Glick lives, if Glick would be able, according to the Jewish laws of mourning, to attend Monday’s vote.
He was widely panned for the move, which many deemed insensitive and inappropriate.
Speaking to ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Hai on Wednesday, Deri rejected the claim that he had acted inappropriately and accused his critics of hypocrisy.
“Neither I nor anyone from Shas asked MK Glick [directly],” he asserted. “No one can lecture us on how to respect the dead. We are the last ones who would, God forbid, disrespect his feelings.”
“When I hear politicians today crying out for Yehudah, those who themselves could have offset his vote but didn’t, I have to draw the line,” Deri said.
Yaffa Glick, who died on Monday, had been in a coma for six months after suffering a severe stroke. She was 51.
The timing of Monday’s funeral caused a mini-crisis in the government, with the coalition initially refusing to postpone the vote and the opposition saying it would not allow any of its lawmakers to bow out to offset Glick’s absence, even though such a move is a customary gesture of courtesy in such cases. With the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party opposing the bill and also refusing to offset, Glick’s vote was necessary to ensure a majority.
Deri claimed that his call to Dimri was not meant to pressure Glick but rather to check “whether Jewish law could allow for Glick to come to the vote during the mourning period.”
“I wanted Yehudah to to the right thing according to his own choice,” he said.
After checking with the rabbi of Otniel, Dimri told Deri later that evening that there was no Jewish law preventing Glick from going but that the bereaved MK had nevertheless decided to stay home, the Shas leader said. “And it ended there,” he added.
Deri said he and other ultra-Orthodox lawmakers only postponed the vote when they had heard back from Dimri, apparently confirming he had sought for Glick to go to the Knesset hours after the funeral.
Dimri was not immediately available to confirm the details of the conversation.
A spokesperson for coalition chairman David Amsalem declined to confirm or deny whether anyone from Likud had asked Glick to attend the vote.
After Glick’s decision not to attend, the vote was postponed until next week. But due to further coalition disagreements, the bill has since been taken off the plenary agenda and returned to committee, Amsalem confirmed to The Times of Israel on Wednesday.
A coalition source said that lawmakers had agreed to amend the bill in order to exempt the southern city of Eilat and all convenience stores at gas stations across the country.
The bill would grant the Interior Ministry the power to overrule local ordinances that permit businesses to remain open on Shabbat.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.